US Air Force secretary Deborah Lee James says concerns about the sluggish US foreign military sales approval process featured prominently in her discussions at the Dubai Air Show, with complaints coming from industry and regional partners.
Boeing offered a blunt appraisal of the US state department’s approvals process at the show, particularly relating to the potential sale of F/A-18E/F Super Hornets to Kuwait. Company officials say the deal is held up in the government’s review process, and more delays could see the nation turn to the Eurofighter Typhoon instead, potentially seeing 28 fighter orders including 12 options go to European industry instead, including the 30 to 40 years of support work.
“I’ve heard from both industry and partner nations about the desire that we speed up the process, and I certainly take it to heart,” James said during a briefing. “It’s important to remember it’s an interagency process, so we have our part in the air force, and we pride ourselves on being great advocates within the government to try get these things moving.
“What I’ve taken away from the discussions is that we need to redouble our efforts and get the message delivered back home that it’s important to give much more quick consideration, if at all possible, but always guarding our most critical technologies. We can’t ever let that go.”
James says the most pressing need right now is for more precision-guided munitions to support ongoing conflicts in Yemen, Iraq and Syria, and to support Gulf nations as they expend their munitions stocks. It takes plenty of lead time to procure those items, she says, and work is underway to expand the industrial base.
Air Force Central Command head Lt Gen Charles Brown says there needs to be better forecasting of future weapons needs, particularly by the recipients. He says precision-guided weapons are favoured in regional counter-insurgency operations because of their precise effects and low collateral damage.
James says “all strategies”, including transfers from other partners, are being considered to fill the shortfall near-term. “The key thing is to keep the fight going,” she says.
The secretary's regional tour is continues after the United Arab Emirates, with trips planned to air bases in Kuwait, Qatar and Djibouti, then Egypt and Morocco.