Center for Strategic Decision Research


International Cooperation in Defense Acquisition

Mr. Alfred Volkman
Director for International Cooperation,
Office of the United States Under Secretary of Defense
for Acquisition, Technology, and Logistics

It is my privilege to be a member of this panel and to address the subject of international cooperation in defense acquisition. In this dangerous world, it is necessary that we cooperate closely with our allies and friends. It is especially necessary for military operations but also necessary for defense acquisitions. The United States and our allies must work together to transform our military forces in order to rapidly subdue our adversaries in conventional conflicts, neutralize terrorists, and defeat insurgents in conflicts such as those we are engaged in in Iraq and Afghanistan. It is essential that we cooperate to provide our military forces with the capabilities required to overcome these challenges. 


In many areas involved in countering terrorism and fighting insurgents, our allies have demonstrated that they have greater experience and better technology and equipment than the United States. Currently  we are engaged with them in a great many cooperative programs in which we are developing essential military capabilities and realizing the economic, political, and technical benefits inherent to armaments cooperation. Most importantly, we are also developing military capabilities that are essential for our survival. 

One of these programs is the Joint Strike Fighter (JSF), a cooperative effort between the U.S., the U.K., Italy, the Netherlands, Norway, Denmark, Canada, Turkey, and Australia. Another is the Medium Extended Air Defense System (MEADS) for which a Memorandum of Understanding was recently signed and which involves the U.S., Germany, and Italy. Still another program focuses on the production of the guided multiple launch rocket system (GMLRS) and involves the U.S., France, Italy, Germany, and the U.K. All of these are high-visibility programs in which the U.S. and our allies are spending many billions of dollars and euros to develop and produce essential military capabilities together. 

The U.S. also takes part in approximately 100 less-visible cooperative programs each year, with purposes such as examining techniques to rapidly repair runways or to detect underwater swimmers. These programs have much to contribute to our military capabilities, but there is much more that needs to be done. Toward that end, in April of 2005 NATO signed a contract to begin the risk-reduction phase of a program designed to provide the Alliance with a ground surveillance capability. It is essential that the Alliance continue this program by entering into the design and development phase early in 2006.

There are many other capabilities that need to be met through cooperation between the U.S. and our allies; examples include countering improvised explosive devices, dispersing explosive ordnance, and developing strategies to provide for maritime security in the approaches to our shores (Metrification of the Littorals, Maritime Domain). We all must work together to ensure that our weapon systems are network-enabled but also to develop trucks that don’t rust, fuel-efficient generators, and forklifts and conveyor belts that get equipment off boats and trucks and into the field more quickly. 


While international cooperation is important in developing defense capabilities, it is often difficult work. And it is made more difficult by impediments that should be acknowledged at conferences such as this one so that we can work together to remove them. These impediments include: 

  • European governments that spend too little on defense and that frequently spend on the wrong thing. 
  • European governments that do not appreciate how important controlling the export of military technology is  in Washington. The EU-China Arms Embargo issue is a textbook example of Europe and Washington talking past each other until a crisis arises. Europe and the U.S. must reach agreement on how to address China’s rise as a military power. 
  • The U.S. Congress does not appreciate how international industrial cooperation benefits our national security and our economy. Members of Congress often propose legislation  that is harmful to cooperation, though most of what they propose does not become law—it is  defeated within the Congress at the urging of the U.S. Administration. In 2004, the U.S. spent 2.0% of its procurement budget (or about $1.5B) on foreign contracts yet Congress spends much time and energy attempting to limit foreign contracts. There is no mention of the billions of dollars contributed by our allies to cooperative development, production, and support programs or the $12B of foreign military sales made by the DoD in 2004. 
  • Most European governments demand some form of offsets when they purchase U.S. products, which invariably increases the prices paid for military equipment. Most economists agree that offsets do not yield net benefits for a country’s long-term economic development—as empty tank plants and aircraft-assembly facilities around the world attest. 
  • There is inadequate dialogue between those responsible for defining military capabilities. This is true not just between the U.S. and our coalition partners but within Europe as well. The European Defense Agency promises that it will address this problem. Cooperative programs are most likely to be successful when opportunities for cooperation are identified at the time that required capabilities are defined. 
  • The DoD frequently applies numerous restrictions on U.S. technology exported to our closest allies. This is because it wishes to preserve our technological edge by taking strict measures to ensure our technology does not fall into the hands of the “bad guys.” This “take no risks” approach restricts our ability to enter into cooperative programs with allies who could enhance our collective ability to develop, field, and support defense capabilities to fight our common enemies. 

The U.S. spends millions of dollars every year to control (or overcontrol, in my opinion) the export of unclassified defense information that circulates freely within the U.S. This is a waste of time and money and is of doubtful effectiveness. The opportunity costs to U.S. contractors who forgo foreign sales because of our export control rules are significant. This is especially true for small defense businesses that do not have the resources required to negotiate their way through the export control maze. 


The advantages to having closer defense cooperation between the U.S. and our allies are obvious. Most importantly, such cooperation will result in enhanced military capabilities and improve the ability of our armed forces to operate together. Cooperation strengthens political ties, provides access to the best technologies, and saves money. 

The U.S. and our allies have a proud record of cooperation, but we can do a lot better; we must do more. We need to engage in more cooperative programs with our partners and remove the barriers that inhibit closer cooperation. 







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