Under Secretary of the Air Force for International Affairs Speaks at FAO Association Luncheon

Ms. Heidi Grant, Deputy Under Secretary of the Air Force for International Affairs, was the guest speaker for the January 2013 FAO Association Luncheon at Fort McNair. Ms. Grant’s remarks addressed the role her office plays in reaching national security objectives through international partnerships around the world.

Ms. Grant’s opened her remarks with a tribute to the importance of the FAO/RAS community, saying: “It’s always a pleasure and an honor to speak with the true experts in the international affairs field.  Many of you here have been or are currently Foreign Area Officers and Regional Affairs Specialists – an important service which provides valuable links to countries around the world. Your expertise and advice offers leaders like me the options we need to make informed decisions and support foreign policy.”

She outlined the role of the SAF/IA office mission: “My office leads U.S. Air Force efforts to enhance international cooperation, capability and capacity in order to support U.S. and partner nation’s national interests. Our vision incorporates the three Cs: Cooperation, Capability, and Capacity.  Most vital in our Mission is our ability to maintain and build trust with existing and new partners.“

Ms. Grant explained that this mission is carried out through three primary focus areas. The first of those is relationships. “Military exchanges, training and education, exercises, air shows, and other programs and activities all help to strengthen our relationships. This, in turn, helps ensure access for both countries and strengthen coalitions. And the key element in any international relationship is the personal presence, particularly the FAO and the RAS.”

A second focus area is to develop international aviation capabilities and capacity.  Foreign Military Sales is a very important tool used to accomplish this.

The third focus area is to build a global community of Airmen. “You’ve heard about our International Affairs Specialist program, which is an important part of that.   SAF/IA has 1,342 international airmen working in over 100 countries and speaking more than
50 languages.”

SAF/IA serves as the U.S. Air Force’s arm to partner with others to deliver the right capabilities. This involves extensive coordination with several agencies from the Departments of State and Defense, as well as with U.S. Embassy country teams, Combatant  Commands,  USAF  Component Commands, and industry.    International Affairs Specialists - specifically RAS officers - assigned to these posts are an important part of this relationship- building process.

President Obama, at his Inauguration, underscored the importance of conflict prevention.  This is a key part of SAF/IA’s mission. Global partnerships help to achieve this mission: “We can achieve more together than we can apart.” And, as Secretary Panetta stated, “It can’t be just the U.S.”.   The scope of our global partnerships spans the world.   There is not a single AOR where SAF/IA is not establishing, sustaining, or expanding partnerships.

SAF/IA manages a robust FMS operation. We partner with other Air Force FMS professionals, combatant  commands,  and   embassies  around  the world to work more than 2,600 active cases worth more than $134 billion in 99 different countries. FMS
is an investment in our global security. By training and equipping partner nations, we can leverage capabilities,  attain  access,  and  share  the  burden  in times of conflict.

Ms. Grant touched on the issue of Defense Export Reform and the Future of FMS, both important topics for SAF/IA and our partners.  She approached this topic  by  speaking  in  more  detail  about  the  core function  of  building  capability  and  capability  in partner nations.  “SAF/IA facilitates partnerships that allow us to cooperate on national and global security objectives.  Our mission is much more than FMS. It’s security cooperation, where we are working to build capabilities and capacity within partner nations, so that they can be more effective contributors to global security.  FMS is the system we use to train and equip our partners so that we can meet these global security goals together.  In fact, I like to describe FMS as the cornerstone of our relationships with partner nations.“

She emphasized that FMS is much more than selling weapons systems. Every case includes a thorough plan that incorporates cooperative training, logistics  support,  doctrine,  and  CONOPS development, as well as equipment sales and transfers. This process creates holistic capabilities and develops relationships that will pay dividends long into the future.   It is because of this total package approach and the quality of the products that FMS cases have grown steadily since 2009 and will continue to do so.

Ms. Grant stated that “Our FAOs and RAS officers who are serving in embassies around the world are on the front lines in their host countries-listening and learning from partners on a daily basis, and building enduring partnerships that will last well beyond their country assignments.”   Since 2009, SAF/IA has conducted studies on support to Security Cooperation Organizations.   The studies assessed effectiveness in organizing, training and equipping to deliver Combatant Commanders the right mix of security cooperation capabilities including personnel assigned to embassies, COCOMs, and partner agencies.   The results of these studies have shown that officers assigned to embassies abroad are the personnel with the most direct influence on the security cooperation mission and long-term international partnerships. “This is not surprising when you think about it.  As FAOs and RASs, you are the people who interact daily with our partners; you are the ones who execute capacity building and humanitarian assistance activities; and you have an enormous effect on regional political-military relations. Whether it’s through FMS or Security Cooperation  activities,  FAOs  and  RASs  play  a crucial role in building enduring international partnerships.”

Because this is such an important part of our mission, SAF/IA has placed a strong emphasis on identifying and rectifying issues with the selection, training, and support of the Air Force personnel filling our SCO billets around the world.  This is an
ongoing effort and we continue to make improvements to  enhance  our  support  to  security

Ms. Grant reminded the audience that in this time of financial uncertainty, international partnerships have become increasingly important.   With budget cuts looming throughout the DOD, IFMS will increase significantly, as the U.S. looks to partner countries to share the cost and operational burden. By focusing our efforts, together we can, and will, overcome any fiscal challenges that befall us. FMS helps improve the capabilities of our partner nations so that they can be active participants in strengthening global security.  This benefits not just the U.S., but the entire global community.  Every country plays a role.  The U.S. needs allies, and we collectively benefit from the strategic depth, enhanced information sharing, increased access and interoperability that result from these partnerships.

She used as an example of a great coalition effort the recent operation in Libya, which was led by NATO in March 2011.  “What many outside of this room may not know is the role played by the United Arab Emirates.  For most of the operation, they flew cutting   edge   F-16s   out   of   Naval   Air   Station  Sigonella, Italy.  The UAE was able to contribute to this mission as a result of the long-term relationship that started with their purchase of F-16s more than
10 years ago.” Their capability benefitted from multiple personnel exchanges, training with the Air National Guard’s 162nd Fighter Wing in Tuscon, Arizona, and participation in Red Flag and Green Flag exercises.  This is a perfect example of how partnering with other nations can result in an expanded pool of coalition partners ready willing and able to respond to a crisis and reducing the burden on U.S. forces.  As this example shows, the acquisition of equipment is only one part of the big picture.   It’s the training and military-to-military engagements that allow partners to be successful and to gain long-term benefit from the equipment they purchase.

A more recent example of cooperation she cited was the ongoing operations in Mali.    The international community is providing invaluable support to France to confront extremists in Mali. Canada, Denmark, Germany, Spain, the Netherlands, the UK, and the U.S. are all among the countries providing aircraft and other support to this French- led operation.

Ms. Grant listed several air force related capabilities that will be priorities in the next few years.  Air refueling is a big one.  While the Libya operation was a great coalition effort, the U.S. was needed to do almost all of the air refueling. Working
with international partners to develop their own air refueling capability would increase the overall coalition capabilities and reduce the burden on the U.S. in future operations. Additionally, expanding the airlift capabilities of partner nations, especially in developing countries, would improve their ability to  rapidly  respond  to  contingencies  and  provide more timely and effective humanitarian assistance and disaster relief.

Airborne ISR is another capability that should be further developed with partner countries.  The more countries that can contribute to ISR capabilities, the more the U.S. can expand intelligence information sharing between our close allies.   “Specifically, I would like to see more of our allies cooperating with Remotely  Piloted  Aircraft,  or  RPAs.    This  is  a touchy subject given the drone debates within our own government.  We at SAF/IA can help to correct misperceptions among  our  allies  by  changing the way that we communicate the value of RPAs.”

Ms. Grant conceded that it is not possible to talk about FMS without mentioning export controls, which are a major challenge to the U.S. and our international  partners.     Export  controls  are,  of course, necessary to ensure exports are consistent  with U.S. national security interests and to protect military information.  However, these same controls that protect us also tend to slow down the process and at times cause complications and much frustration for our industry and international partners.

She is encouraged by the continued whole-of- government emphasis that is being focused in the area of Defense Export Reform.  When fully implemented, the President’s Export Control Reform initiative will more easily facilitate the transfer of equipment and materiel to our partners. It will also improve the defense industry’s ability to support existing partners and sell appropriate goods and services to emerging markets.  The goal of the ECR is to streamline the process by creating what is known as the four singles. This includes a new single control list, shared between the Departments of Commerce and Defense, which will raise "higher walls" around fewer truly critical technologies.   It also   includes   a   single U.S. government export control licensing, a single IT system to manage this process, and a single export control enforcement coordination center.

SAF/IA was responsible for the complete overhaul of two of  the  twenty  categories of the United States Munitions List, which resulted in the removal of thousands of items. This effort represented a unique opportunity to shape the future of U.S. export controls by providing a more transparent catalogue of the national “crown jewels” that demand protection.  For example,  one  of  the  items  cut  from  the  aircraft category of  the  USML  was  common rope  lighting used to outline emergency exit doors of helicopters. This lighting, which you can buy at your local hardware store, is clearly not something that needs to be on our national list of protected items. The ECR effort has just begun, but I think these are exciting developments towards reforming our slow and unresponsive export control business.

SAF/IA has  also  implemented initiatives to improve responsiveness to our partners and industry. Our  weapons  baselines  initiative  streamlines disclosure and release processes within the Air Force and the defense industrial base.  Partner nations now know within days whether or not they can be offered a certain weapon system or capability.  This is a process that in the past took up to six months to provide a yes or no answer. These baselines provide a pre- coordinated position on export of weapons to select countries and expedite the disclosure and release process.  Now, with these baselines in effect, we can provide an answer sooner, with a single pre- coordinated Air Force voice.

Weapons export baselines and the ECR are just two of many initiatives the DoD and the Air Force are undertaking to simplify the way partner nations and industry work with the Air Force. One of the best parts of this job is being able to partner with industry to help nations achieve new capabilities that were not possible before…to see the fruits of that combined effort.  This would not be possible without the efforts of our personnel who are representing the U.S. in countries around the world.

“For those FAOs and RASs who are here today, you are our eyes and ears.   You have the best understanding of what your partner nation needs and where  they  want  to be several years from now.  It is up to you to relay that information  back  to us so that we can develop   a   plan   to help them achieve these capabilities, thereby  improving the interoperability between our two countries.  Similarly, as SAF/IA and the Air Force seek to build certain capabilities in countries, you become our de-facto action officers.  Remember that we at SAF/IA are one of your go-to resources.   We want to be a one-stop shop for our international partners and make it as easy as possible for you to coordinate on these issues.”

In closing, Ms. Grant emphasized that FMS is a win-win situation for everyone. Many people believe that through this process, we are giving aid to international partners, but it is actually quite the opposite.  If we do this right, it will continue to result in increased coalition capacity and a reduced burden on the United States.  For our international partners it means increased capability and access to the best equipment and training in the world, bar none. “International partnerships are at the foundation of all the work we do and you, as RASs and FAOs, are a critical part of that.”

"This article first appeared in the Spring 2013 edition of the FAOA Journal of International Affairs.  Become a member and have access to the full journal."


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