Joe Ruzicka is an NCPA contributor and expert on military affairs:
After more than two years in the making, the Obama Administration has approved sales of 4th generation fighters to several Middle East countries. Qatar and Kuwait have been patiently waiting for White House approval to move the sales packages forward, while Bahrain may need to show more effort in their human rights efforts before full approval is given. The sales packages now head to Congressional leaders for final approval.
While some may disagree with the sale of U.S. weaponry to a foreign country, particularly those in the Middle East, the foreign military sale process makes sense from an economic and partnership standpoint.
First, production lines in key economic areas can stay open. U.S. Government orders for 4th Generation fighter aircraft are very limited due to the ongoing transition of Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps aircraft fleets to the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter (a 5th Generation jet). Boeing was expected to completely shut down its production lines by the end of the decade if the F-15 and F/A-18 sales were not approved. With these latest foreign military sales, new life has been breathed into a production line that was on its last legs.
Boeing employs over 15,000 people at their St. Louis plant. The sale packages could easily extend those production lines’ lifespan into the next decade. This means those highly technical jobs remain and thrive in the St. Louis area.
Additional economic impacts include several strategic business benefits. Overall unit costs are lowered due to economies of scale, the U.S. balance of trade is improved and the foreign sales create a windfall for U.S. industry. According to Loren Thompson, the F-15 sale to Qatar would be worth about $4 billion to Boeing’s defense business if all options are exercised. The F/A-18 package will consist of 28 Super Hornets with an option for 12 more and could be worth nearly $3 billion.
While the impact can certainly be felt in real dollars, the intangibles from a foreign military sale might be even more lucrative.
When the United States enters into a foreign military sale agreement with a country like Qatar, the government uses a “Total Package” approach. This means that not only are the aircraft procured, but also everything else that is required to utilize and operate the weaponry.
For example, the Middle East fighter jet sale will also contain provisions for training (of both maintenance and aircrews), logistics and spare parts, and maintenance applications. The Total Package approach is a 30-35 year bi-lateral agreement that has been entered into between the two countries. This long-standing relationship is key if the United States wants to maintain security cooperation with its allies in an increasingly dangerous world.
Furthermore, by selling U.S. products and weaponry, the United States ensures that interoperability is achieved between the two countries. It also prevents non-U.S. weapons systems from being purchased and proliferated. Fighting alongside a country that has similar weaponry helps build a military coalition through common tactics, techniques, and procedures.
A great example of this is the 2011 Air Campaign against Libya where U.S. and NATO aircraft worked in conjunction with each other to unseat dictator Colonel Muammar Qaddafi. Belgium flies the U.S. made F-16 fighter. During the campaign, Belgian F-16s were qualified to conduct air-to-air refueling (AAR) operations from any boom-type NATO tanker. This resulted in Belgian fighter aircraft being refueled by tankers from the U.S. Air Force, the Royal Netherlands Air Force, or the French Air Force. The interoperability of the Belgians with other NATO aircraft simplified AAR planning and was one key factor in preventing Qaddafi from crushing the rebel movement.
Finally, for those naysayers who are worried that the receiving country would use our own technology against us, the U.S. is very careful in controlling what technology is sold abroad. Foreign military sales go through a rigorous vetting process. Key technology restrictions must be met prior to the weaponry being exported. This may be as simple as fighter aircraft being sold with a less powerful radar than the U.S. version or a full scale Anti-Tamper plan in place to prevent any technology leaks. Regardless of the sale or the country, rest assured the United States maintains a tactical advantage with its own weaponry.
And remember, that tactical advantage also translates into a great economic and security cooperation impact for the United States.