Pentagon shaking up FMS regime to improve transfer of critical tech to allies and partners

The move came on the heels of a “Tiger Team” review that highlighted a number of shortcomings and systemic challenges with the current setup.
River entrance of the U.S. Department of Defense. (Getty Images)

Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin has signed off on a tasking memo aimed at improving the Pentagon’s contributions to the Foreign Military Sales (FMS) process.

The move came on the heels of a “Tiger Team” review involving officials from across the department, which highlighted a number of shortcomings and systemic challenges with the current setup that make it harder to procure and transfer critical technology to international allies and partners.

Austin on Tuesday issued a series of directives to officials and agencies that implement arms exports and security cooperation.

“To accelerate discussions with allies and partner nations about FMS requirements and reduce delays during the FMS case lifecycle, the Department will change the way it organizes, trains, and equips for security cooperation, including by establishing a Defense Security Cooperation Service on par with the Defense Attaché Service,” the Pentagon said in a release.


To lower barriers to the export of key capabilities, “the Department will review and update relevant policies and empower accountable officials to improve the efficiency of the review and release of technology to allies and partner nations. The Department will also continue to support interagency efforts focused on technology review and release,” it added.

Other steps to be taken include developing a methodology to facilitate non-programs of record, establishing contract award standards and metrics, and creating “process maps” to monitor the FMS prioritization and award process.

Another key goal is expanding defense industrial base (DIB) capacity to not only produce items needed by the U.S. military, faster — but also supply foreign partners.

“The Department will incorporate ally and partner requirements into ongoing efforts to expand DIB production capacity. This will include developing a comprehensive study to incentivize DIB investment in production capacity and building surge capability for high-demand, low-supply platforms, systems, and services. The strategy will include use of multi-year contracts; enhanced use of the Special Defense Acquisition Fund; five-year predictive analyses of partner demand; and sustained engagement with the DIB,” per the Pentagon release.

Austin also directed DOD officials to work with other stakeholders in the FMS process, including the State Department and Congress, to identify additional opportunities for improvement.


Notably, the Pentagon is setting up a permanent Continuous Process Improvement Board (CPIB) tasked with making sure the Tiger Team recommendations are actually implemented, tracking metrics and making more adjustments over time. This panel will report to the secretary of defense.

“We know that there are consistent challenges inherent in FMS and that this is something that requires our senior leadership to keep a close eye on over time. So we’re committing as I said, to a … continuous process improvement initiative. It will involve using modern technology to collect data, to establish metrics where we are, I think, collectively committed to embracing a more data-driven approach to FMS,” Deputy Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Sasha Baker — who co-led the Tiger Team with Deputy Undersecretary of Defense for Acquisition and Sustainment Radha Plumb — told reporters during a briefing at the Pentagon on Tuesday.

DefenseScoop asked Baker if the changes were also aimed at improving the transfer of technologies like software and artificial intelligence capabilities, not just hardware and services.

“What we’ve looked at is the system as a whole and there any number of recommendations that we’re making that I think will benefit the process, regardless of which widget is coming out on the back end. It may, to your point, be the case that as we move further into things like AI, for example, we may discover that there are unique challenges there that require unique or more bespoke solutions. Part of the reason we have this Continuous Process Improvement Board is to identify and raise those issues early so that we can get after them and we don’t have to sort of wait for years and then come back and say, ‘OK, well, we haven’t really been doing this right, so let’s fix it.’ Let’s fix it on the front end,” Baker said.

As new technologies emerge, the Pentagon will have to figure out which ones can be transferred to allies and partners and which ones need to be more closely held.


“Particularly as we move into, to your point earlier, increasingly advanced technologies, how do we ensure that we have a process in place to adjudicate what can be released and what needs to stay proprietary to the United States? That’s not a new problem, it’s not something that we’ve just uncovered today or over the course of this [Tiger Team] process. But we do think that we’ve put in place some recommendations here that if we follow through on them are going to address what has been, frankly, a long-standing pain point for the department,” Baker said.

Plumb added: “I think some of the exportability work we do now and looking at what exportability looks on both hardware software and then the integrated system … is going to be helpful, both for space and for things like software-enabled capabilities, AI, etc., so that that work is transferable. And then on the hardware production itself, much like all of our sort of overall hardware contracting and production, that … very much should be helped by the process to speed the contracting, set targets on those contracting, but then make sure we are appropriately capturing partner demand for that and incorporating that in the production lines for the capabilities we need.”

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