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An Increasingly Important Mission

AMCOM LCMC and Foreign Military Sales

“Since the United States assumed the role of a leading security provider after the end of World War II, DoD has worked actively to build the defense capacity of allied and partner states. Doing so has also given the U.S. Armed Forces opportunities to train with and learn from their counterparts. These efforts further the U.S. objective of securing a peaceful and cooperative international order. Security cooperation activities include bilateral and multilateral training and exercises, foreign military sales (FMS) and financing (FMF), officer exchange programs, educational opportunities at professional military schools, technical exchanges, and efforts to assist foreign security forces in building competency and capacity. In today’s complex and interdependent security environment, these dimensions of the U.S. defense strategy have never been more important. U.S. forces, therefore, will continue to treat the building of partners’ security capacity as an increasingly important mission …”

– Quadrennial Defense Review, February 2010

While Foreign Military Sales may have once been viewed as an adjunct to U.S. defense strategy, one modern global reality is the recognition of the critical role that FMS plays at both strategic and tactical levels.

Gen. David Petraeus highlighted this reality in his March 2010 testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee, observing, “Our security cooperation and security assistance efforts are critical to improving security and stability in the region. They help strengthen our relationships and build the security and response capabilities of our partners in the AOR [area of responsibility]. Continued strong support for global train and equip resources; Coalition Support Funds; and the State Department’s Foreign Military Financing (FMF), Foreign Military Sales (FMS), and counter-narcotics security assistance and reimbursement programs are essential to generating  comprehensive and cooperative solutions to defeat insurgent groups.”

Reflective of an increasing need for our allied nations to protect themselves from modern asymmetric threats, combined with the demonstrated utility of rotary wing platforms in ongoing combat operations, more than 50 percent of the entire FMS portfolio in fiscal year 2010 will come from U.S. Army Aviation and Missile Command (AMCOM).

“What we do here at AMCOM Security Assistance is handle all of the Foreign Military Sales for the Army regarding aviation or missile systems that the Army manages,” explained Dr. Thomas Pieplow, director, AMCOM Security Assistance, Redstone Arsenal, Ala.

“What that means is that these are sales facilitated between industry and our allies for the acquisition of particular systems,” he said. “Now, there are instances where countries are allowed to go directly to business. But the predominant methodology is Foreign Military Sales, where we act as a conduit.”

Pieplow offers a recent historical perspective on the scope of his organization’s activities, noting, “For the time period 2002 to 2007, we averaged about $1.5 billion worth of sales a year. Beginning in 2008, however, that total began to take off exponentially, going up to almost $4 billion. Then last year, in 2009, we came in right at $14 billion worth of Foreign Military Sales.”

Mi-17 Hip helicopter Foreign Military Sales

The Afghan National Army (ANA) Air Corps received three Mi-17 “Hip” helicopters like this one taking off on a mission from Kabul. The new helicopters were refurbished in the Czech Republic and transported to Afghanistan in a contracted AH-124 Russian transport. The three helicopters will add to the ANAAC fleet and help the Air Corps increase their missions supporting the ANA. The Russian helicopters represent a non-standard but important FMS case for AMCOM. U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Keith Brown

Looking toward future projections, he cautioned, “This isn’t linear, where you would have an equal amount each year. A lot of it depends on the budgetary processes within the individual countries. That said, when you look at what we have on the table right now of countries expressing formal interest, and in some cases having already signed letters of acceptance, we’re kicking around upwards of $80 billion of potential future Foreign Military Sales just for our aviation and missile systems over the next three years. And if even half of that comes to fruition you are still talking about continuing exponential increases over what we’ve been doing. So for this year and for the next three years we see a very robust Foreign Military Sales base for our aviation and missile systems.”

Pieplow’s “non-linear” caveat reflects a mix of program stages, ranging from expressions of interest to signed letters of acceptance.

“From that standpoint it is quite exciting,” he added. “In many cases we are enabling emerging democracies to be able to provide for their military and their defensive needs. And in other cases we are also able to affect the ‘transition’ of governments. As examples, in Iraq and Afghanistan, Foreign Military Sales is a key enabler to impact the president’s drawdown plan.”

“We see our Soldiers, every day, making enormous sacrifices,” he said. “And we are moved when we see those sacrifices by those young men and women. So within our organization here we are also committed to our No. 1 mission, which is taking care of the Soldier. And one way we can do that is by facilitating other governments to stand up for their own military needs. That allows us to bring our Soldiers home.”

“We’ve been at the forefront of a lot of great efforts,” he noted. “You can watch the news at night and we will be involved with a lot of the important things that you see happening there.”

Pieplow credits the exponential growth to “many of the same dynamics that we see playing out every day in the press. For example, the Iranian regime is the cause for a lot of concerns in that region of the world. And because of that concern, countries in that region have been looking at augmenting or, in some cases, standing up a capability to defend against any hostile actions taken by that regime. In other cases, because of the operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, the U.S. Army’s demonstrated reliance on and success with Army aviation has placed a spotlight on the amazing capabilities of those platforms. So, as the governments in that region stand up and improve their own aviation capabilities, we see greater sales of systems in the aviation commodity.”

The program director also sees an increase in orders based on the “modernization” of equipment that has been fielded by countries for 10 to 15 years.

Iraqi air force UH-1H II Huey helicopter Foreign Military Sales

An Iraqi air force UH-1H Huey helicopter embarks on a medical transportation flight at Taji Air Base, Iraq, July 17, 2009. More than 50 percent of the FMS portfolio in 2010 came from AMCOM. U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Michael B. Keller

“In talking with our customers, there are two things that they consistently highlight in terms of the United States and our military equipment,” he observed. “No. 1 is the tactical superiority of our equipment. And number two is the fact that the United States stands behind what they sell. Even though we have a lot of what some might call ‘competition’ from other countries that sell weaponry, our customers still look at us as the premier systems providers. And, because of that, countries that have had systems now for the next 10 to 15 years are now looking to U.S. for their future modernization needs.”

Pieplow points to the fact that part of the program growth reflects AMCOM’s recent involvement in some “nontraditional” arenas.

“One example is with the Russian helicopters that we are helping to provide the governments in both Iraq and Afghanistan,” he said. “This has enabled us, by facilitating sales of support equipment and in some cases even new helicopters, to be a continuing partner with these governments while at the same time providing them with a capability that perfectly fits their needs. And in some of the rare instances that’s what the Russian helicopters do.”

Pieplow is quick to acknowledge that there has been some criticism of the Russian helicopter arrangement, noting, “I understand that people are wondering why we are providing Russian helicopters when there is a U.S. industrial base. But when you look at the dynamics in some of these regions, they have been using Russian helicopters for the last 20 to 25 years. All of their pilots are trained on those helicopters. All of their systems are basically adapted to the Russian way. We think they will likely look at American built helicopters over time, but that’s not something that will just happen overnight. So for that interim period this approach allows us to remain a player as we build the defensive needs of a lot of these countries.”

Offering another example, he pointed out that in “our efforts to support the government of Mexico in their war on drugs, we have been using the Foreign Military Sales process to provide them with Bell helicopters. In some cases we don’t even have those systems in the Army, but they are a perfect response to the needs of the government of Mexico. And in another case, we have been able to provide the government of Kazakhstan with a ‘Huey II’ helicopter. Again, this is not a system used by the United States Army. But it is a perfect system for the needs of Kazakhstan. And by using FMS it has allowed us to be a partner with them in a critical region of the world.”

Turning to “the missile side” of the equation, Pieplow said, “We are finding that there are concerns in Southwest Asia right now – not just with operations in Iraq and Afghanistan but more some of the potential threats being articulated in speeches by members of the government of Iran. And one result was that we just signed the largest Foreign Military Sales case in Army history in 2009, which was the sale of a complement of Patriot systems to the United Arab Emirates. That was a full air defense capability. Moreover, we were able to accomplish that in record time. And that could not have been achieved without the collective efforts of the representatives of the United Arab Emirates as well as the teamwork within our own ‘government.’”

“When I speak of ‘government’ I look at things the same ways that countries do,” he said. “We don’t segregate the contractors and the government. That’s because when a foreign country looks at us they don’t distinguish. They look at us as all being the United States. So we try to have that same thought process in recognizing our teammates in this. You are talking about some major vendors here – like Lockheed Martin and Raytheon – and collectively the ‘government’ team was able to get on process and rapidly establish an air defense capability for the United Arab Emirates.”

maintenance on Dutch Apaches

The Theater Aviation Sustainment Manager-Europe recently completed maintenance on two AH-64 Apache helicopters owned by the Netherlands as part of its reimbursable Foreign Military Sales program. The Dutch military had previously purchased the Apaches through the FMS program. U.S. Army photo by Jennifer King

In terms of anticipated challenges over the next few years, Pieplow offered, “The acquisition process is thorough for all the right reasons. What that process offers is a disciplined methodology to make sure that we are getting that customer the greatest capability at the optimal cost. But it is not quick. People don’t understand why it could take from six months up to a year to get acquisitions through the process and on contract. So one of the challenges that I see is being able to get our projected work growth – up to $80 billion over the next three years – on contract in a timely manner. With even the current process taking nine months to contract – especially with major buys – my concern is that, as that workload grows, we don’t just keep putting more work at the top end of the funnel. Instead we have to figure out ways to increase yield at the bottom end of the funnel.”

Part of the solution will be found in Redstone Arsenal’s workforce retention and recruitment dynamic.

“Over 50 percent of my own organization are new faces from when I started here three years ago,” Pieplow explained. “That’s not an increase. Our total end strength is roughly the same. But what we have been able to do is bring on talent from groups like young college graduates and retired military. As a result of those efforts we have revitalized the workforce.”

Expanding on the workforce theme, he related, “Prior to 9/11 [2001], I think that DoD [the Department of Defense] as a whole was not bringing in a lot of young talent. And because of that we had an aging workforce at the same time that we had increasing workloads in the post-9/11 period. That resulted in an increase in contractors to perform the missions required. But what we have done over the last three years is to transition that situation into a more stable base of qualified government civilians who will now be in place and able to execute these requirements for the next 20 to 30 years.”

The myriad workforce efforts are also creating synergies with ongoing Base Realignment And Closure (BRAC) activities that are taking place in and around Redstone Arsenal.

“What we want to do with BRAC is to make the entire process as transparent as possible to the ultimate customer,” Pieplow said. “We insist that our customers will never see degradation in the support that they are receiving from us. So, while BRAC may involve physical moves, through our ongoing workforce efforts we will minimize any impact in performance.”

Reflecting back on the full impact of AMCOM’s FMS activities, Pieplow observed, “We reap benefits from Foreign Military Sales, separate and apart from some of the strategic issues that I noted earlier. For example, when we were working the case for the United Arab Emirates and the Patriot system, it allowed everybody to realize many million dollars’ worth of improvements to the system, improvements that we were able to share in and partner in, as we developed that case. Obviously, from an economic standpoint, it also supports jobs throughout the United States – whether you are making a missile or making a helicopter blade or engine – there are secondary economic benefits to our economy as a whole.”

This article was first published in U.S. Army Materiel Command: 2010-2011 Edition.

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Scott Gourley is a former U.S. Army officer and the author of more than 1,500...