Foreign military sales at a Wright-Patterson agency are likely trending to a “new norm” of about half of last year, according to the leader of the Air Force Security Assistance and Cooperation Directorate.
Brig. Gen. Greg Gutterman, outgoing leader of AFSAC at Wright-Patterson who retires next month after three years in the top spot, projected sales of about $13 billion to $14 billion – although figures won’t be final until later this year.
In 2017, sales nearly tripled compared to the prior year, reaching $27.5 billion, driven by the $13.4 billion sale of 36 F-15 jets to Qatar.
Overall, the United States expects to deliver $61.4 billion in foreign military sales by the end of the fiscal year, according to the State Department, compared to $41.9 billion last year.
Some of the big ticket pending sales included 34 F-35 Joint Strike Fighters to Belgium for $6.5 billion, 14 F-16s to Slovakia at a cost of $2.9 billion and six C-130 aircraft to Germany at a cost of $1.4 billion, according to the Defense Security and Cooperation Agency.
As China has aggressively expanded its military presence in the South China Sea, and North Korea has — until the most recent Singapore summit-brokered deal — threatened war with the United States, Japan and South Korea, arm sales have spread throughout Asia, Gutterman said.
In the Middle East, the threat of the Islamic State has fueled sales, also, he said.
“The global environment is certainly creating a little bit of demand,” he said.
Now and in the future, sales to foreign countries of the F-35 Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter, the F-16 Fighting Falcon and the KC-46 Pegasus aerial refueling tanker were expected to be big boosters, he said. So, too, are demands for drone and munitions.
One defense analyst said the United States weapons export process is “slow and bureaucratic” compared to foreign competitors.
“It’s a global market and we have competitors in that global market who are willing to move very quickly,” said Andrew Hunter, director of the Defense-Industrial Initiatives Group and a senior fellow of the International Security Program at the Washington, D.C.-based Center for Strategic and International Security.
The commercial market is often a faster alternative for some weapons buyers for items such as small drones, he said.
A leading defense industry organization has called for a speed up in the export “review, approval and advocacy” process to grow the U.S. defense industrial base.
“Our industry is competing against our adversaries in a global defense marketplace where every export opportunity is a zero-sum, time sensitive competition with an enduring impact on American influence, security and our defense industrial base,” a May 29 letter from Aerospace Industries Association officials said to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.
The State Department recently announced a push to speed up conventional arms transfers as part of a push to tie economic security to national security needs.
Speeding up wait times
AFSAC has been under an Air Force directive to shorten wait times for customers.
“The foreign military sales process is not broken, but it is certainly burdened,” Gutterman said.
The agency’s workforce made significant gains in cutting down wait times in recent years, he said.
Gutterman, 52, the second longest-serving AFSAC director who’s next assignment in civilian life will be writing books at his Beavercreek home, focused on improving communication and accountability among different agencies with oversight of foreign sales and reducing customer wait times.
“The way that we communicate has been formalized and in the past it was really the power of the personalities,” he said.
In the most recent statistics released, AFSAC reported the time from when a foreign request is received to acceptance has dropped from nearly 151 days in 2016 to 88.5 days in fiscal year 2017.
In more complex cases, such as the sale of a fighter jet, the time between when an offer is received and acceptance has dropped from 228 days in fiscal year 2016 to less than 203 days in 2017, AFSAC has said.
Delivery of a major weapons system, such as an F-16 fighter jet, may take four or five years.