By Ms. Adriane ElliotDecember 28, 2016
Like its embattled cousin acquisition reform, strategic acquisition faces long-standing challenges, among them navigating a complex, billion-dollar bureaucracy. As experts debate ways to perfect the defense acquisition process, one Alabama-based command is making an impact close to home with an international approach.
The U.S. Army Security Assistance Command (USASAC) at Redstone Arsenal, Alabama, manages security assistance programs and $176 billion in foreign military sales (FMS) cases. With support from DOD agencies, American industry and its higher headquarters, the U.S. Army Materiel Command, USASAC provides materiel, training and other services to help 150 allied nations and organizations strengthen their defense capabilities. Those efforts help achieve regional stability and international security--and also bolster the acquisition community through partner nation investments.
"Take, for example, a partner nation that is funding an FMS case. If they discover they need a technology augmented because they're fighting in a certain terrain or under particular circumstances, they may request we enhance a piece of equipment or technology," said Sean Hicks, a USASAC country program manager who oversees cases for several Middle Eastern nations. At the country's request, a portion of its FMS funds is diverted to help fund the research and development (R&D) of the desired enhancement, Hicks explained.
"Now we have this upgrade that, in some cases, the United States would have developed sooner or later, but it wasn't a driving force at that moment," he said. "The partner nation is now a co-investor in the new technology, and we both win because we are fielding a technology much sooner than expected, at a much lower cost due to the shared investment, and it is a technology that will improve the U.S. mission and the safety of our warfighters." And, although the U.S. government and partner nation share the R&D costs, Hicks noted, both the original and upgraded technology remain the intellectual property of the United States.
Partner nations can also benefit, said Hicks, in one of two ways: The United States can reimburse them for their investment, or other nations may offer to pay for use of the new technology.
BOOSTING THE BASE
Additionally, partner-invested enhancements can mitigate workload shortages and sustain the expertise of industry workers during peacetime across the 23 depots, arsenals and ammunition plants that make up the Army's organic industrial base (OIB).
The Army's OIB is vital to Soldier readiness, said Maj. Gen. Stephen E. Farmen, the USASAC commander. "It is a national security readiness insurance policy and has to be there--up and running--the moment we need it." The OIB allows the United States to build and reset weapon systems quickly and decisively, not at the civilian sector's pace, which is hindered by a sometimes sluggish contracting process. During Operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom, the OIB reset nearly 4 million items, a workload three times that of the Vietnam War. Since 2003, the reset workload has constituted more than $29 billion in Army equipment and more than $5.7 billion in equipment for the Air Force, Marine Corps and Navy.
FMS also benefits Army acquisition through economies of scale: The United States is able to purchase equipment at lower per-unit cost as the order size increases. "It costs less and less to produce more and more," said Hicks, adding, "At the end of the day, the positive impact of FMS has a wide reach--and not only from a national security and partner nation standpoint, but also from an OIB, industry, fiscal and acquisition standpoint.
This article will be published in the January - March 2017 issue of Army AL&T Magazine.