The UK Ministry of Defence has brokered a bilateral agreement with its US counterpart aimed at relaxing technology transfer restrictions between the nations, potentially removing a barrier to trade relations which late last year threatened London's continued participation in the Lockheed Martin F-35 Joint Strike Fighter project.
Signed by outgoing prime minister Tony Blair and US president George Bush late last month, the initiative seeks to replace a current framework under which individual export licences must be obtained for each exchange of goods, services or information. This has at times slowed the pace of discussions on JSF and also hampered the UK's ability to rapidly acquire off-the-shelf equipment to meet its urgent operational requirements in Afghanistan and Iraq.
"Signing the treaty achieves a long-standing goal of both governments to remove restrictions on defence trade and also helps faster sharing of classified information," the MoD says. "The treaty also potentially enables British companies to bid more easily on US defence programmes."
Welcoming the advance, UK minister for defence equipment and support Lord Drayson says: "It is vital that we do all we can to work together on interoperability and on technology research and innovation."
MoD sources stress that the new initiative is not another attempt by the UK to obtain a waiver to the US government's International Traffic in Arms Regulations after an earlier push failed in the face of Congressional opposition.
"This agreement will enable information to flow more freely using current mechanisms", says one source, while cautioning that with approval from Congress again required, "there is still a hill to climb".