—John A. Tirpak
Heidi Grant, deputy undersecretary of the Air Force for international affairs, speaks with US service members during the Dubai
Airshow in the United Arab Emirates on Nov. 14, 2017. Air Force photo by TSgt. Anthony Nelson Jr.
America’s coalition allies in the anti-ISIS fight and elsewhere have not yet replenished their munitions stockpiles, and at least one has admitted it expects to draw on US stocks in military conflicts. The US must now have frank discussions with its allies about what they will contribute in a future fight, and what they expect the US will provide, said Heidi Grant, deputy undersecretary of the Air Force for international affairs, on Tuesday.
Speaking with reporters in a wide-ranging roundtable discussion, she also said it’s in the best interest of the US to head off crises like Turkey’s purchase of S400 air defense systems from Russia before they happen, by making US systems available in a timely manner, and that she’s not detected any increased pressure to review Saudi arms purchases in light of the Khashoggi murder, because there was “already a lot of pressure” due to the situation in Yemen and “civilian casualties” there inflicted by Saudi jets using US munitions.
“We’re trying to ensure they have a capability to defend” Saudi Arabia, and may emphasize defensive rather than offensive systems in the near future. “I think that’s more palatable, … you need to focus on defense.”
Grant, who will soon move to a new job as head of the Defense Technology Security Administration, was asked if allies in the anti-ISIS coalition—who went into that conflict with already depleted munitions stockpiles after the Libya war in 2011—have replaced the munitions consumed. Many allies ran out of munitions and have borrowed heavily from US stocks, resulting in last year’s huge boost in munitions production among US manufacturers.
“We have their attention, now. … Orders are coming in now for munitions, and they realize it takes 18 months” to get delivery, she replied.
After the Fiscal 2019 budget came out, an Air Force spokeswoman, answering the same question, told Air Force Magazine in February that allies would achieve “payback” on borrowed munitions by the third quarter of calendar year 2019 and that some countries “are already in payback.”
But Grant said the “trust factor” she has tried to build with allies during her eight years in the job have begun to produce some “deep discussions” about strategy and weapons, and about “what are [their] capabilities.”
She said one country had admitted to her “that it was their strategy to draw down on our stocks.” Grant said, “we ought to be having a conversation, today,” about specific contributions each partner will provide in a coalition effort. For example, the US will expect a country with air refueling capability to contribute that, because the US Air Force may be engaged “over in another region, potentially. So, having these dialogs, that’s where we are right now … how we burden share.”
The contributions have to go “both ways,” Grant continued. “It can’t just be the US is there and a provider for you, just a transactional relationship.”
The munitions shortage “happened to some of our European partners, with the counter-ISIS conflict, and it allowed me to have a conversation as we were looking at North Korea; I was able to have that conversation with some of the Pacific partners.” Grant said she has told allies, “I don’t have the stocks” for allies to draw on, anymore, “and you guys need to start putting in your orders.”
She declined to name the country that admitted its strategy is to depend on the US to provide munitions in a crisis, saying she believes the US should be a “quiet partner” in arms discussions and not make public comments that would get ahead of partner announcements. She said it’s a constant battle preventing contractors from making press announcements before FMS countries are ready to talk about transfers.
“Potentially, we could lose the deal or it puts that leader in a bad spot,” she observed.
Regarding congressional moves to block arms sales from Turkey—and potentially drum Turkey out of the F-35 program—over human rights issues and Turkey’s purchase of Russian S400 air defense systems, Grant said she was not involved in discussions about what Turkey’s departure would mean to the F-35 program. As for the S400 operating in close proximity to the F-35, Grant said it must not be allowed to happen.
“It has to be segregated,” she said. “The F-35 is not only a US capability, but it’s a partnership, and we need to ensure that not only the US is protected, but the entire partnership technology is protected.” She said the “mil-to-mil” relationship between Turkey and the US, particularly the Air Force, is strong, but “I have no details on … negotiating strategy.”
The situation has produced “a lot of learning,” Grant said. She wonders whether the US did “enough work up front to prevent it.” Perhaps not enough attention was paid to “the risks of not being the partner of choice” on a new Turkish air defense system. She declined to comment on whether the US could have influenced the price offered by Raytheon on its competing Patriot system.
Grant said she has labored to streamline and speed up the Foreign Military Sales process since beginning her job in 2010. FMS cases have doubled, she said, from $96 billion to $185 billion over that period, even though staff has declined, she reported. There has been a “42 percent reduction” in the amount of time it takes to go from a letter of requirements to a letter of offer, she noted.
In approaching all FMS arrangements, Grant said the Air Force’s goals are three. One, “to build partnership for access” in times of crisis. Two, to create forces “in lieu of” the US having to send its own forces, so countries can defend themselves, and three, to establish interoperability so that countries can fight efficiently alongside one another in future coalitions.
She noted that 70 countries fly variants of the C-130, and that the F-16 serves in 28 air forces around the world. FMS supports 100,000 jobs in the US, she asserted.
The US is making a particular push to relax restrictions on FMS of remotely piloted aircraft like the MQ-9 Reaper. Grant said the restrictions on US export of that technology to only three other countries so far—Britain, France, and Italy—has given China a chance to sell its own knockoff version. “We allowed them to get in ahead of us” with many potential users of the MQ-9, she said, and “expand the footprint” of bases where Chinese technology operates. Congress still needs to be educated that the Reaper is not truly “unmanned” but requires lots of people to operate and process its product, and doesn’t violate the Missile Technology Control Regime.
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