Officials Push French-U.S. Industry Cooperation: European Firms Are Seeking 'Level-Playing Field' in U.S. Weapons Market

Article excerpt

French and U.S. defense industrialists recently met to discuss how they could increase cooperation between both nations.

In an open letter to the Franco-American defense industrial community, Edward C. "Pete" Aidridge Jr., U.S. undersecretary of defense for acquisition, technology and logistics, and his French counterpart, Gen. Yves Gleizes, wrote that transatlantic cooperation between the two countries is more important than ever.

Aldridge and Gleizes said that both nations should work to improve interoperability, to jointly define future equipment needs and to strengthen the relationship between the French and American defense industries.

Many American and French officials noted that there are both cultural barriers and bureaucratic difficulties in working together. During the France-U.S. Defense Industry Business Forum, held in Baltimore in December, government and industry representatives from both countries discussed business opportunities and various initiatives designed to change procurement practices.

Among the changes sought by the French are more access to compete in U.S. defense programs, the streamlining of U.S. export-control policies and a more-even playing field for transatlantic competition. "The forum sought to provide an understanding of the two business operating environments, as well as provide opportunities for face-to-face meetings between French and U.S. executives," said Frank Cevasco, the conference chairman.

"There must be strong political will on both sides for French-U.S. industrial cooperation to succeed," said Francois de L'Estang, France's ambassador to the United States. "Progress on a joint declaration of principles for the defense industry would be very welcome," he said. Such a joint declaration of principles would go a long way toward building alliances, pooling scarce resources and leveraging technologies, he said. "Our respective governments must set rules to govern, in full respect of each country's national security regulations, to mutually benefit armament cooperation efforts," L'Estang said.

"The days are long gone when troops can forge their own musket balls around the campfire the night before the battle," Aldridge said. "Defense industries cannot be invented on the eve of a national emergency...Defense industries must be maintained [by government] in peacetime as well as in war, with the ability to ramp up as needed."

Aldridge recalled that on September 10, in a speech to his employees, he said that three of the last five major wars where the United States participated came by surprise. "Twenty-four hours later, that figure had been modified to four of six," he said. "This illustrates that ways must be found around sparse defense budgets to be prepared for conflict when necessary," Aldridge said.

"There is value as well as challenges to coalition warfare, but international cooperation is of critical importance in this," he said. "If each country had to develop capabilities by themselves, we would isolate ourselves, and further widen the interoperability gap."

But Aldridge also acknowledged that there are major structural barriers to transatlantic cooperation. "There are too many items on the [State Department's] munitions list, technology transfer is too difficult, and the administrative process required for export controls takes too long," he said. "But interoperability is key even when the bureaucracy is resistant to change."

Deirdre Lee, director of procurement at the Pentagon, said that great difficulties are encountered by French firms trying to do business with the U.S. Defense Department. For example, "the Buy American Act," part of the Federal Acquisition Regulations, says that any item with military or federal government use cannot be purchased outside of the United States unless no one in the country makes it. There are also statutory restrictions on purchases of food, clothing, fabrics and specialty metals from foreign sources. …