State Department 'retooling' foreign military sales process to accelerate weapons deliveries

By Tony Bertuca / May 18, 2023

The State Department, citing "shifting global security conditions" related to Russia's war in Ukraine and U.S. competition with China in the Indo-Pacific region, has unveiled a new 10-point plan to streamline the U.S. foreign military sales process.

A new fact sheet for “FMS 2023” states that key reforms are focused on everything from strategic planning to case adjudication to administering implementation of current and future FMS cases.

Such sales are big business for the United States.

“On average, allies and partners purchase approximately $45 billion annually in U.S. arms, equipment, and training via FMS, and from 2021 to 2022, implemented FMS purchases grew by [49%],” the fact sheet states.

Along with assessing potential threats from Russia and China, State says that U.S. FMS cases must also contend with industrial capacity challenges and global supply change disruptions.

“[T]he time has come to reassess and adapt security cooperation to meet new and emerging challenges,” the fact sheet states.

While State says 95% of all FMS cases are evaluated and approved by the department within 48 hours, “’FMS 2023’ examined how the department’s review process can be improved for the remaining [5%] of cases, which may entail complex policy issues and extensive interagency coordination.”

For starters, State is pledging a “new approach to strategic planning” on FMS that would develop a regional approach to arms transfers.

“When adjudicating proposed FMS cases for one country, we can save time on the policy approval process and further improve interoperability between U.S. and foreign partners by anticipating comparable demands for its neighbors and making anticipatory policy decisions for these countries’ potential future FMS purchases as well,” the fact sheet states.

The department says it will also try to prioritize FMS cases based on national security goals.

“Where possible, we can prioritize and provide expedited planning assistance to partners identified as priorities in the National Security Strategy, National Defense Strategy, and DOD's regional Combatant Command Theater Campaign Plans,” the fact sheet states.

Members of Congress have become increasingly critical of the FMS process for placing previously booked sales by Saudi Arabia ahead of Taiwan, which has a backlog of nearly $20 billion and has been deemed by many lawmakers to be a higher priority given threats from China.

State also says it will begin promoting “proactive, forward-looking” uses of the Special Defense Acquisition Fund to allow for the rapid delivery of U.S. weapons.

“By identifying key capabilities in demand by multiple partners we can reduce long-lead time articles by months, or even years and accelerate delivery timelines,” the fact sheet states.

Further, State says it will work to improve FMS adjudication by “refining” implementation of the Unmanned Aerial System Export Policy.

“UAS can provide allies and partners important capabilities for a range of operational requirements. Refining internal Department processes for adjudicating potential UAS transfers will expedite arms transfer policy decisions,” the fact sheet states.

State also pledges to work with Congress to improve the “tiered review” process in which lawmakers provide input on FMS cases that require lawmaker notification, though the fact sheet does not provide specifics.

The department will also work to “eliminate duplicative reporting to Congress” and improve the training of security cooperation officers who help oversee FMS cases at U.S. embassies.

Additionally, State wants to limit “special security arrangements” to reduce delivery times to select U.S. allies by up to two years.

“Standard FMS measures can provide sufficient safeguards to technology and end-use under most circumstances,” the fact sheet states.

Additionally, State wants to streamline internal processes and to avoid delivery delays, as well as advance various Conventional Arms Transfer Policy Working Group initiatives.

“As part of the new CAT Policy, the department is working with DOD to improve FMS processes and provide enhanced options to allies and partners by: 1) addressing long standing challenges facing innovative and flexible financing mechanisms, 2) improving the process for procuring Non-Program of Record platforms, 3) building exportability into the development process, and 4) improving technology security and releasability processes,” the fact sheet states.