President Donald Trump on Friday approved the implementation plan of his administration’s reforms to the Conventional Arms Transfer (CAT) policy, an attempt to push more international defense trade deals.
The policy change is intended to better align conventional arms transfers with U.S. national security and economic interests.
The White House first announced policy changes last April to better compete with foreign defense competitors like Russia and China (Defense Daily, April 19).
On Monday, Ambassador Tina Kaidanow, acting assistant Secretary of State for the Bureau of Political-Military Affairs, told reporters in a teleconference that the policy seeks to strengthen security partnerships internationally with key partners and allies and encourage interoperability while also supporting U.S. industry and jobs.
The implementation plan lists changes like working with partners and allies to identify critical capability requirements and working to expedite transfers; providing allies and partners with U.S. alternatives to maintain influence; increasing the competitiveness of U.S.-made systems by working with industry to build exportability into design, expanding support of non-program of record systems, and incentivizing increased production capacity; updating the regulatory and policy framework and modernizing multilateral regimes; exploring options to reduce financial barriers to procuring U.S. defense goods; working with partners to ensure reduced barriers to U.S. entry; and working with partners to ensure things like offset requirements do not damage U.S. jobs.
Kaidanow said this means the government will try to make sure it is better and more intensively supporting arms trade policies, “with an eye to integration of effort. That’s important as well. So a lot of this is efficiency. It’s not that we haven’t done it before; it’s creating that environment in which what we’re doing is better done, it’s done to a greater purpose and to a more effective purpose.”
The President and CEO of the Aerospace Industries Association (AIA), Eric Fanning, cheered the implementation plan and said its recommendations on strategic focus, whole of government coordination, and enhanced accountability made it into the implementation plan.
“AIA and its more than 340 member companies, representing 2.4 million American aerospace and defense workers, deeply appreciate the Administration’s commitment to improve transparency and efficiency in the security cooperation process — an effort that we have been advocating for many years,” Fanning said in a statement.
“It is absolutely essential for our government and our industry to get to the right answers on defense trade with our allies sooner, so that we can continue to 'outpartner' our adversaries. Going forward we commit to expanding our already robust dialogue and partnership with the government’s security cooperation enterprise to sustain and grow the competitiveness of U.S. defense exports,” Fanning added.
This week Kaidanow is leading the U.S. delegation at the Farnborough International Air Show to speak with officials from the defense industry and other governments. She said her focus there will be to have a series of meetings with companies of various sizes, specifically highlighting efforts to educate smaller and medium-size enterprises (SMEs) about the policy changes.
“We will make probably a special effort on behalf of SMEs to do that kind of reach out, but I encourage them as well – and I have been encouraging them – to when they have questions or concerns to come in to us and give us that set of questions, and we will certainly try and act on it,” she said.
Kaidanow said the U.S. is arguing for not only the quality of U.S. products, which largely speak for themselves, but also the value of interoperability with the U.S. military. She will make the case “from the vantage point not just of the quality but also of the interoperability and the national security piece, that we really do want to foster those relationships.”
The ambassador had no new commitments yet on one of the biggest changes to the arms transfer policy, which is allowing for the direct commercial sale of unmanned aerial systems. She said there has been a lot of interest from the manufacturers and some countries asking about the policy, but the U.S. is balancing helping to make it easier to sell these capabilities with non-proliferation concerns.
“It’s a case by case evaluation, so what we’re attempting to do, again, is to ensure that we are looking at all those very carefully and that’s the discussion point that we’ve had with a number of both those on the customer side and also those in the industry side,” Kaidanow said.
She also said the larger Trump administration trade policies and repercussions from increased tariffs are not having an impact on her advocacy work.
With defense issues “these are enduring relationships, and the decisions that countries make on a lot of this are not really dictated so much by short-term trade considerations one way or the other," she said. Defense trade issues are dictated mostly by security and strategic partnership issues, Kaidanow added.
“It’s important to keep it in that lane because these are the kinds of thoughtful decisions we want countries to make. We don’t want them to be acting on the concerns of the moment per se,” she said.
Separately, Kaidanow said the administration is pushing Turkey to acquire Raytheon [RTN] Patriot missile defenses even after it has agreed to buy Russian S-400 surface-to-air missile systems.
The administration wants the systems its allies acquire to be those that support the strategic relationship among allies and believes Patriot is a good fit for Turkey for air defense.
“We’re trying to give the Turks some understanding of what we can do with respect to Patriots,” she said.
Kaidanow said the question is if the U.S. wants its friends and partners to understand that acquiring weapons from Russia will be supportive of “some of the least good behavior that we have seen from them in various places” and hopes they will take that into account as they consider purchases.