The Complex World of FMS


This morning DoD attempted some damage control on the Saudi arms deal by releasing an Armed Forces Press Service article that suggests the most recent agreement is nothing more than regional business as usual.

Here's an excerpt from the article: "Saudi Arabia, the biggest buyer in this recent arms package, has been a close ally of the United States for decades, a senior defense official said on background. (Ward note: I love it when officials speak "on background" when talking to government scribes.) 'They have been in important partner in the war on terror. They have been especially effective in going after al Qaeda,' he said.

"That's not to say, he emphasized, that the Saudis or anyone else in the region is 'doing all the things we would like them to do' and can't contribute more toward regional stability.

"'But they are doing some things that are very important to us,' he said. 'And I think that, plus the long-term relationship and the key role Saudi Arabia plays in all these other issues ... are a manifestation of why the kind of long-term relationship represented by the arms deal is important.'"

Of course, the justification of "regional stability" is the ethical high ground of foreign military sales. On a more utilitarian level are the elements of commerce . . . commerce that affects the leviathan that is the American defense industry.

Across the Potomac from the official halls of power is Rosslyn, a grouping of high-rises perched above the Capitol like hawks in a tree bordering a farmer's field. On these high-rises are names like "Boeing" and "Northrup Grumman." And inside the buildings are the offices of those whose employment hinges on whether or not they are able to seal the deal for their employer. Often the deal involves FMS.

The efforts of the defense industry are muted if not stymied by the "do-gooders" at the Department of Defense who care about things like "technology transfer" to nations less friendly than, say, Saudi Arabia. Nations like . . . Japan.

That's right. We recently told Japan that we won't sell them F-22s . . . at least not right now. Why? Because, as Aviation Week reported recently, "Japanese leaks several months ago of secret data about the Aegis naval anti-aircraft and anti-missile system. A Japanese naval officer married to a Chinese woman was found in March with a computer disk containing the data about Aegis, another extremely sensitive system."

And is Lockheed-Martin, the company that manufactures the F-22, happy about the decision? No. Why? Because they are trying like hell to get the unit cost of the Raptor down below $200-plus million and to do that they need to make a lot more of them.

So what is Japan's response to this dissing: They are going to produce their own "stealth technology demonstrator." (Now we've gone and done it. Remember what they did when we refused to sell them tube radios and Ford Torinos?)

Then there's the Joint Strike Fighter, an airplane with it's future firmly staked in FMS. Eight foreign countries have placed orders for the next-gen aircraft, which makes it a tough proposition for Congress to mess with when the budget comes around (although they have messed with it in the past).

And while everything seems koom-buy-yaa between the partner nations at places like the Paris Air Show, there exists a tension below the surface: Foreign buyers ask themselves, "How does my JSF differ from the American JSF?" It is well known that FMS versions of the F-4, F-14 (Iran), F-15, F-16, and F/A-18 were never as advanced as their U.S. counterparts.

But foreign nations have never been as involved in the development of an aircraft as they are with JSF - a fact that at once relieves and heightens the tension between parties. Foreign countries fear that their visibility into the program is at some level an illusion. They know there's no way the Pentagon is going to allow American companies to give away the farm.

Meanwhile the Black Market poises itself for action . . . but we'll save that for another post.

(Photo: JSF assembly line in Fort Worth.)

-- Ward

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