Last week, DID (and Winds) covered the ITAR defense technology waiver crisis in British-American defense relations, and noted that serious trouble was brewing.
Trouble has arrived.
Senior Ministry of Defence officials have confirmed to The Sunday Times of London that Britain is considering its options and contemplating a pullout from the multinational, multi-billion dollar F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program (JSF). It's a 10-nation program: USA, Britain, Australia, Canada, Denmark, Israel [observer], Italy, Netherlands, Norway, Singapore [observer], Turkey); but Britain is the program's only Tier One partner with the USA. They've invested about $2B to develop the F-35B STOVL version that was intended to fly from Britain's future Queen Elizabeth Class carriers - and will also form the future backbone of US Marine Corps aviation.
The British have been issuing escalating warnings for several years now, and it looks like they've just about had it. According to British officials, instructions have been given for alternative strategies for projects affected by American technology-transfer problems - and JSF was included in that list. It was time, one said, to "think the unthinkable."
If Britain goes, a bunch of bad things are going to happen - and the damage will go all the way to the foundations of the US - British alliance. Most Americans aren't even aware that this issue exists, let alone how serious it has become (and thanks to Anglosphere originator James C. Bennett for commenting!). It's time to pay attention.
Because the reason things have reached this point lies in the US Congress, and it's Republicans not Democrats who have created this situation.
What's Going On Here?
ITAR relates to Section 38 of the USA's Arms Export Control Act (22 U.S.C. 2778), and creates a regulated weeks-long approval process for exports of a military nature. They exist to protect and oversee the transfer of American military technologies and secrets to other countries.
ITAR restrictons affect a long list of items, including mundane weapons parts and components. They can also place limits on authorized cooperation until waivers come through for each item involved, because "defense services" are covered as well. Furthermore, the delays involved in getting ITAR approvals for each item can be a real hindrance to allies whose firms are trying to work on joint defense development projects. The resulting stumbling blocks to cooperation essentialy impose an additional time and often an additional monetary cost on allied involvement.
Of course, the alternative of having no scrutiny or approvals process is a non-starter. But what about your closest allies? Is there a point at which you say: "on balance, it's better for us to generally trust folks on joint projects with X and Y"?
Britain, as the USA's closest defense partner, would like to have the ITAR restrictions waived in many cases, essentially conferring automatic approval on British requests. In 2000, Bill Clinton promised both Britain and Australia (another genuine ally who cooperates on a number of defense projects with the USA) that he would work to make this happen. George W. Bush and his administration have also worked to make this happen. Both Bill and W. have failed, however, largely owing to resistance from a few powerful congressional Republicans - esp. House International Relations Committee Chair Henry Hyde [R-IL], and House Armed Services Chair Duncan Hunter [R-CA].
The DID article "UK Warns USA Over ITAR Arms Restrictions" explains all this in more detail. I'll note in fairness that the Republicans involved aren't being completely irrational, and have some valid points. Hyde isn't doing this to play protectionist and get votes - he's retiring in 2006, which means he's doing this because he believes in it.
Which will be awfully cold comfort if the USA proceeds to do major damage to long-term relations with America's REAL allies over things that are frankly a lot less important - especially in the world we live in today.
A British pullout from the JSF at this crucial juncture could have seismic ramifications, at multiple levels.
Defence Minister Hoon, Britain's Parliamentary Defence Committee, and Prime Minister Tony Blair have all warned the USA that the problem's they're experiencing in this area go beyond the F-35, and affect Britain's overall relationship with the USA. What do you folks down there need, a freaking singing telegram?
Here's a hint: if you get one, it will be the French maid.
If America wants to work with allies in military situations, interoperability matters. A British pullout from the F-35 would compromise that in two ways: directly, and indirectly. The direct effect is obvious. The indirect compromise is worse.
It's one thing to decide that a program doesn't fit military needs, and pull out or reduce orders. It's another thing for your closest ally to more or less decide that they can't work with you on major defense development projects. Which is exactly what a JSF program pullout would represent.
Since going alone is not a financial option, Britain would look elsewhere for defense development cooperation - to European industry, and to EU-led programs to create both a common European defense industry and a European force independent of NATO or the USA. A British military that is more and more interoperable with its European partners, and less and less common with the USA, and also not fostering ties at the weapons program level because cooperation is curtailed... is a Britain that will find itself, slowly but surely pulled away from its special defense relationship with the USA. This will, of course, have ripple effects on its foreign policy. Especially given that broken promises and a breakdown of cooperation would be what led to this whole situation in the first place.
Finally, there's the stakes for the F-35 JSF program itself, currently one of the USA's largest weapons programs as it seeks to replace its aging F-16, F-18, and AV-8 Harrier fleets. Those planes were designed in the 1970s, and many were bought in the 1980s.
You can basically divide any weapons program in two: there's the development costs for the weapon, which you pay even if you never buy one (let's say $100). Then there's the production cost per weapon (let's say $10). If you buy 10 weapons, each costs $20 ((100/10)+10). If you bought 100, each would cost $11 ((100/100)+10). If Britain leaves, and a chunk of fighter orders go with it, the USA has to either choose to subsidize development of the F-35 for other nations, or raise the price. If it raises the price too high, however, other nations may find the F-35 too expensive and buy alternatives. Worse, the F-35 has parts from all the consortium members. Fewer F-35s sold means smaller industrial benefits for participating countries.
2006 is shaping up as a key year for European fighter decisions, and weakness or schism within the program could easily lead other countries to bolt. Countries like Norway and Denamrk are already scoping alternatives, and a British pullout would trigger a groundswell of unease and second thoughts in many of the program's European partners - helped along by the anti-American EUphiles to be sure. As more countries bolt, the development costs fall among fewer fighters andthe industrial benefits for each country shrink, intensifying the financial and political problems. And on it goes.
Obviously, this would be bad for an important US defense program, bad for US industry, and bad for US interoperability with its allies. If protectionism is a motivation here in any way, doing things that will cost several thousand American jobs in the near term doesn't strike me an intelligent way to go about it.
Technology Transfer and the JSF
"With JSF, "we had a difficult start to exchanging the necessary data and technical information on this vital program," said Lord William Bach of Lutterworth, U.K. undersecretary of state and minister of state for defense procurement.... Cooperation was reached on the system design and development phase, but the transfer of data and technical information has been way behind, he said.
A senior Pentagon official speaking to a defense industry conference in London said that some of these problems can be blamed on the U.S. bureaucracy. "The vast majority of acquisition PMs [program managers] were not cognizant of export control requirements until they were informed that a certain license application had not been approved, thereby delaying the next step of a critical international armaments cooperation program," said the official.
As the article notes, organizational workarounds were found for many of those initial problems. Nevertheless, the same issues will replicate themselves across the defense cooperation spectrum.
Other issues remain live within the JSF program itself. For example, Britain is seeking full independent maintainability and control over its F-35 fighters - and one of the most critical and contested areas lies in the plane's massive software source code. Since software will run so many aspects of the F-35's operations, access to the source code is necessary in order to debug many flaws, and may be required to integrate new weapons.
At the same time, the plane's dependence on software makes protecting the securtity of that source code an absolute must. To have even parts of it fall into hostile hands could be a disaster of the first magnitude. On the American side, there is also the quasi-protectionist angle of not wishing to have others copy the software and develop spin-off products in future that are based on US work. Even attempting to scrutinize that would be a challenge, however, creating intrusiveness, approval, and friction problems of its own. The option of American code control as the sole "clearinghouse" for the program is thus an attractive one.
On the other hand, with $2 billion invested as a "Tier One" partner, Britain may justly feel that a full partner should not have to go hat in hand to the USA every time a change is required.
The issue of technology transfers within a specific program is seperable in principle from the issue of ITAR. Nevertheless, in practice the two issues are merging into one broad politico-industrial complaint whose ramifications could be seismic.
Britain: So What's Britain's "Plan B"?
According to the Times of London, negotiations regarding Britain's 88 Tranche-3 Eurofighters are apparently discussing the possibility of a carrier-suitable variant.
Ironically, it was France's unique insistence on a carrier role for their future fighter, with the accompanying design and specification requirements, that contributed to French negotiating rigidity and broke up the original Eurofighter consortium in 1985. France would go on to develop the Dassault Rafale independently, including a Rafale M carrier version.
Creating a matching "Eurofighter CV" could be done, but contra the breezy confidence displayed in the Sunday Times, it would be a major undertaking. Many of the aircraft's original design decisions vs. the Rafale (increased weight, for instance) diverged precisely because designers were free to ignore the carrier requirement. Dr. Richard North is generally correct about the design and cost implications that a retrofit would create1, extending not only to redesign of the Eurofighter but of the CVF future carriers as well.
Then again, Britain could also just buy the Rafale as its naval fighter, and turn the CVF program into a joint program with France. The latter idea was already under discussion even before the technology-transfer flap with the USA reared its head.
Opinions vary concerning Britain's F-35 JSF bombshell. Is it just a negotiating tactic meant to show seriousness and communicate the stakes? A dead-earnest intention, backed by those who wish to align Britain more closely with the EU? Anglosphere proponents and Atlanticists on both sides of the pond, meanwhile, would argue that it doesn't matter - just getting to this point is a failure of sorts, and could put issues in play that were better left as unspoken matters of trust.
The question is whether resolution of this impasse is possible in the near-term, and sustainable in the longer term.
My complaint with the Left's insincere definition of multilateralism isn't that the USA doesn't need allies. That's ridiculous. It's that the USA needs real allies, not people who pretend to be its friends for advantage, then stab their ally in the back when it becomes convenient. Senator Kerry was both the exemplar and a prime advocate of this definition, which is one of the reasons I opposed his candidacy in 2004.
When trouble comes, people - and countries - learn who their REAL friends are. It isn't always the ones you thought beforehand. Now more than ever, the USA needs real allies.
There's a corollary to this point, and it matters too. Real allies, who stand with you when the going gets tough, are special. The kind of people - and countries - worth being a friend like that FOR will go out out of their way for their real friends. Sometimes a long way out their way. The USA, and the Republicans in Congress who believe wholeheartedly in its larger mission, need to step back and focus on what's really important.
Cicero, and others here on Winds, have described the competing ideologies our world faces. Let me offer my take:
- The continental European EU model of top-down transnational socialism insulated from democracy is one. It is doomed by demographics, by the corrosive effects of its inherent unaccountability and inflexibility, and by the emptiness that lies at its heart. What is in question is what will come after, and whether its roots in the Enlightenment, Western Civilization and the dignity of man will prove strong and deep enough to overcome its failures.
- The authoritarian quasi-capitalism of China (which could morph into something either better, or far worse) and Asia is another option, one that will present a rising challenge both geopolitically and ideologically. Can material prosperity be insulated from political freedom? For how long? If so, there are many places where such a model will be attractive - and a resource-hungry colonialism that depends on its export is hardly out of the question.
- There is, of course, the Islamist alternative, which may acquire an ability to destroy that far surapsses their fallen civilization's utter inability to create. It has blended with the detrius of the 20th centry's failed totalitarian experiments, and that truth is now being observed in affiliation and action as well as in theory. In the end, what remains of Islamic civilization will either learn to love the kuffar [unbeliever] as its brother, or its own internal logic will lead to its death - at another's hands, or at its own. The Fascist death-impulse is strong, and intrinsic, but they rarely die alone. It is time for the decent people to choose, and make a stand.
- And don't forget the Anarchy alternative of warring tribes, artificial failed states, and the shadowy criminal organizations that both feed on and depend on them. for the foreseeable future they, too, will be with us. There are a number of plausible scenarios in which al-Qaeda is just the first challenge of its type, the early wave of a trend rather than the last wave of a long civilizational death-spiral.
Against all of these, there is another tradition. One of civic society organized of individuals, and characterized by accountability, flexibility, and the rule of law. It is not a tradition bound by ethnicity, geography, or past historical status - though it has many of its origins in the historical experiences of the British people and blends deeper Graeco-Roman and Judeo-Christian origins. James C. Bennett and The Anglosphere Institute call it The Anglosphere, and to the extent that Western civilization and its ideals retain a fighting chance in this world, this is where they reside most firmly.
It's a model that has proven its sustainability, and now it is learning the balance between respect for others, duty to others, and its own self-preservation. It is imperfect. It is also, I believe, the best hope for a world that represents a better future for ALL humankind.
Say it with me, Congressmen: I am a member of a civilization.
Britain is the leader that was, America, the leader that is. And if the USA plays its cards as well as Britain did, another will arise in time and become the leader that will be. Of a culture that values the creativity, exploration, freedom, and dignity of all. Perhaps one day, those values will be held by most of humankind. Perhaps one day, they will even extend beyond. I hope so with all my heart.
But not if we fracture now, when the world most needs us to stand together amidst the swirls and eddies of history. Not if we balk our true friends, instead of finding ways to deepen our ties and prepare, together, for what may come. Not if we ruin the opportunity before us in shortsighteness, And all over what, I ask you?
These are your best friends we're talking about, Congressmen. Act like it.
Straighten up, and fly right.
Anglosphere Originator James C. Bennett Chimes In
"The ultimate solution may well be in what I have proposed in my book, an integrated "defense industry community" agreement between the US, the UK, and other nations willing and able to abide by its strict destination rules on thirrd-party transfer. (This would not be restricted to Anglosphere nations, but it's likely that such would be its core.) Within this community, technology transfer and cooperation would be essentially transparent, and mergers would be possible without many of the burdens that today limit and hedge foreign ownership of defense-sensitive companies in the US. Such a community would be a powerful carrot to the UK's high-tech and defense industries. However, it would almost certainly mean the curtailment of some portion of the UK's participation in pan-European mergers and combinations.
A combination of increasing (and largely valid) US concerns over third-party destination controls (fed by Clinton-era blunders in technology-transfer controls to China), and increasingly aggressive EU plans for defense integration, combined with a strategy of triangulation with the US's strategic rivals, is making the UK's position of choice over the past decades increasingly untenable. Blair, or perhaps Prime Minister Brown (or perhaps even Prime Minister Cameron, who needs to be addressing this issue) will soon have to make a choice. Americans should be thinking over a better offer to Britain than a continuation of the status quo, or the status quo minus further restictions. This is a moment for strategic, long-term thinking and an honest view of the real options. So far the only people doing this are the Europeanists, who already understand the choice and are working hard to ensure that Britain is pushed their way. It would be stupid of the US and the UK to let this happen by default."
UPDATE... F-35 Lightning II: Final Resolution
The US and Britain did get everything straightened out in the end, and their points of agreement became the basis for a multilateral deal with all of the program participants. All of whom went on to sign the F-35 Production Phase Memorandum of Understanding, which will put the industrial infrastructure for F-35 manufacture in place and determine work shares. The final stage will be actual military procurement contracts from the various partner nations.
- DID Focus Article - F-35 Joint Strike Fighter: Events & Contracts 2007 (updated)
- DID (Dec 14/06) - Britain Formally Signs F-35 Production Phase MoU
- DID (Aug 4/06) - F-35 JSF Program: US & UK Reach Technology Transfer Agreement
1 Dr. North's insistence that the USA would be happy to cancel the F-35B STOVL version, however, is grievously in error. The F-35B STOVL version is also required by the US Marines and by the USA's substantial set of LHA/LHD amphibious assault ships; the F-35A (standard) and F-35C (carrier) versions have had cancellation discussed, but even excluding foreign sales opportunities, the F-35B has both a substantial US constituency and no plausible substitute.
(Originally posted to Winds of Change.NET on Dec. 13, 2005)