In an exclusive interview with DoD Buzz, Lockheed Martin CEO Bob Stevens says he hopes Congress looks favorably on the Obama administration’s proposed arms export control reforms because it will make U.S. companies more competitive, help generate U.S. jobs and better protect crucial U.S. technology.
The administration announced roll-out of its first tranche of substantial changes yesterday, none of them requiring congressional approval. Jim Jones, the president’s national security advisor, plugged the changes in an opinion piece in yesterday’s Wall Street Journal.
Congressional aides have indicated deep unease with some of the administration’s more ambitious proposals, such as a single agency overseeing arms export licenses and merging the State and Commerce departments lists governing what is subject to an arms export license.
I asked Stevens what he would tell a senator or congressman to allay fears that they might end up voting for changes that might lead to the loss of crucial American technology.
He said he hoped “that we can turn to facts and look to history and the experience we have had over the last couple of decades and recognize that the world is changing. Today much technology is already available on a global basis.” His comments echo those of former Deputy Defense Secretary John Hamre a decade ago, as well those of an influential Defense Science Board report at the time. But key lawmakers remain wary of changes that might lead to shifts in what committees would oversee arms exports and in what technologies would be subject to arms export licensing.
Stevens said he believes “we have the resources, the understanding” to create a single list of technologies and “to safeguard and to protect them.”
U.S. competitiveness should also drive arms export changes, he said: “It’s also in the interest of members of Congress and the administration and people like me in the industry to work on ways we can be more competitive.”
There is good reason for companies such as Lockheed to lobby for changes to the arms export control regime. Today, 14 percent of Lockheed’s sales are to international customers. “We believe that will grow to about 20 percent over the next few years,” Stevens said. Among the key Lockheed systems affected are the Joint Strike Fighter, the F-16, missile defense and commercial satellites, he added.
Another reason for reform -- time is a component of competitiveness, Stevens noted. Critics have long complained that the current arms export system takes too long and is too uncertain in its outcomes.
In the long run, Stevens said the new system proposed by the administration would do a much better job of protecting truly sensitive technologies as it would focus more resources on fewer targets.
Finally, I asked him about the long-delayed arms export treaties with Britain and Australia languishing in the Senate, where they await ratification. He hopes they get ratified soon, as they will “be a stepping stone for a process we can rigorously police so trade can occur more fluidly and in no way damage the security of the United States."