DEFENCE WATCH ANAYLSIS
By David Pugliese
Is purchasing military equipment made with U.S. technology becoming more of a burden these days than it’s worth?
It’s a question some militaries are asking as they try to deal with U.S. regulations and restrictions on what the purchasing country can and cannot do with equipment that is outfitted with U.S. technology.
The latest to deal with the issue is the Canadian Navy. Faced with delays and restrictions about what it can and cannot do with U.S. technology, navy has opted to modernize its frigates using as much non-American equipment for it key systems as possible.
The Defence Department had stipulated that the command and control system on the multi-billion dollar Halifax-class frigate upgrade project be free of the U.S. International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR), Lockheed Martin Canada’s vice president Don McClure told Defence Watch.
The only way to do that is to choose equipment that isn’t using sensitive U.S. technology.
ITAR problems have caused delays in the Canada’s Cyclone maritime helicopter project and other defence programs.
It has also presented hurdles in the past for Canada to receive approvals to donate Canadian Forces equipment to allied nations such as Afghanistan, according to a November, 2007 briefing note obtained by Defence Watch.
In the case of the frigate upgrade, prime contractor Lockheed Martin Canada in Ottawa has assembled a team that isn’t using U.S. technology for the C2 system on the vessels. Saab Aerospace of Sweden is Lockheed Martin’s main partner.
Key radars, sensors and software to be installed on the Halifax-class frigates are coming from Canada, Sweden, Israel, Germany, and the Netherlands.
According to a briefing provided to Defence Watch, Thales of the Netherlands is handling the 3D Air and Surveillance Radar and IFF, Raytheon’s German firm is doing Nav Radar and Display Unit, Elisra of Israel is doing the ESM, etc.
McClure said that the idea is to deliver an ITAR-free, low risk command and control solution.
The Navy wanted the flexibility offered by non-ITAR controlled equipment because it didn’t want to have to seek U.S. permission each time it wanted to modify or upgrade its command and control system.
There will be U.S. components on the ship but many of those will be commercial-off-the-shelf and not governed by ITARs, McClure said. (The frigate’s missile systems will be built in the U.S. and are governed by ITAR.)
It is still clear that the U.S. will continue to be the main supplier of equipment to its various allies around the world.
But there is a movement afoot in some areas to deal with the problem of ITARs by not buying U.S. equipment.
ITARs are supposed to be designed to keep U.S. technology out of the hands of particular nations such as Iran.
But they are also used by the U.S. as a vehicle to give American firms a leg up on the competition, according to representatives of Canadian defence firms.
For instance, if a Canadian defence product has a U.S. component in it, the State Department mat not approve of a particular sale, if that Canadian firm is going head to head with a U.S. company in that market.
A study last fall, partly funded by the U.S. Department of Defense, found that some European governments were looking for systems that weren’t covered by ITAR.
“Everybody tells us that ITAR slows the speed of obtaining licenses, limits the release of technology, creates the business uncertainty and makes the process very difficult,” Jeff Bialos, former deputy undersecretary for industrial affairs at the Pentagon and the author of the study, noted in a interview with Defense News in October.
“European countries are very concerned about their operational autonomy being limited by not having access to technology, by having a ‘black box’ and not being able to change it. They’re worried about program delays and risks.”
There are other consequences for the U.S. as foreign firms in countries fed up with have to deal with ITARs start making their own systems.
In 2008 retired U.S. Air Force Maj. Gen. Craig Weston, an associate fellow at the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics, told reporters that ITAR was hurting innovation in the U.S. space industry and threatening national security. “Rapidly emerging foreign industrial capabilities are challenging U.S. space superiority, which is contrary to the intent of ITAR,” Weston said. “Moreover, ITAR has blocked the U.S. from benefiting from the growth of foreign space capabilities.”