Operation Cooperation: U.S. Defense Officials Intend to Expand Asia-Pacific Partnerships
Pentagon leaders look to the East for technological collaboration.
Officials in the U.S. Department of Defense are in the final stages of developing a strategic plan for international cooperation in the Asia-Pacific region. The plan will explore new partnership opportunities with developing countries that have creative commercial sectors.
Keith Webster, director of international cooperation, Office of the Undersecretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics, is spearheading the strategy development. He says the plan is the “first ever” out of his office, represents “a whole new approach for us” and is “directly to support the rebalance in the Pacific.”
“We have long-standing relationships with Japan and Singapore and Australia, and now there’s a lot of emphasis on India and Southeast Asia. But we’re talking about Thailand or Malaysia or Vietnam for technology engagement,” Webster reports. “Those smaller countries with emerging economies really don’t have robust military-industrial capacity or even research capacity, but they have some really innovative emerging commercial-sector technologies that may have defense applications. We’re looking at some of those niche areas and seeing if we can create a dialogue.”
Webster’s office has completed the baseline strategy document, which is classified, and will follow that up with a series of individual nation reports detailing possible cooperation opportunities in those smaller countries. “The baseline document gives a framework for our vision and what we are trying to accomplish. It also takes a very innovative look at how to evaluate a country and its ability to collaborate with the United States technologically,” Webster reports, adding that evaluations will include information on each country’s Internet usage and literacy rates.
The baseline strategy complements the Defense Department’s Innovation Initiative, the “third offset strategy” and the Long-Range Research and Development Program Plan, which is a comprehensive study conducted by another Pentagon office, Webster explains. Once Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter has been briefed on the long-range plan, he will provide guidance that Webster’s team will use “to further support the decisions that [Carter] makes coming out of this significant study on tech superiority in 2025 and beyond,” Webster states.
Webster’s office also is focused on the Defense Technology and Trade Initiative with India. In January, U.S. President Barack Obama and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi issued a joint statement supporting the trade initiative. The two nations have agreed to pursue six cooperative projects.
Two are industry projects: Lockheed Martin’s Roll-On/Roll-Off kit, which essentially turns large transport planes into intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance platforms, and AeroVironment’s Raven unmanned aerial vehicle, which is known in India as the Cheel. Two are government-to-government projects at the research level: Mobile Electric Hybrid Power Sources, which can mitigate the heavy burden of logistics resupply that expeditionary services face, and Next Generation Protective Ensembles, which will enable the military services to operate in chemical and biological environments with no or minimal degradation in performance. Projects five and six involve the formation of two working groups, one for jet engine collaboration and the other for aircraft carrier design and construction.
The agreement with India originated in 2012, when then-Defense Secretary Leon Panetta recognized that the pace and scope of cooperation on defense technology and trade had historically been impeded by cumbersome bureaucratic processes. Carter, then the deputy defense secretary, was tasked with undertaking a joint initiative with India to provide increased senior-level leadership and engagement to overcome challenges.
Webster’s office has been intricately involved from the beginning. “The number-one priority for me is India,” Webster says. The Defense Department leads the initiative with support from the White House, State Department and Commerce Department. “This is an effort to reset the relationship specific to supporting the transfer of advanced technology to India, whether it be through sales, through science and technology collaboration or through supporting ... industry collaboration on defense material or commercial material that could be used for defense purposes,” he adds.
Future international agreements in the Asia-Pacific region and elsewhere may be implemented more easily through the pending expansion of the International Agreements Database (IADB). Webster helped establish the database a couple of years ago. The tool, which is accessible to the services and the Office of the Secretary of Defense (OSD), identifies all bilateral and multilateral agreements the department has in place globally. “When components at any level have decided to pursue a particular project with a partner nation, they can very quickly determine if there is an agreement already in place ... that addresses the same general technology and is broad enough that they can actually use that existing agreement as opposed to negotiating a brand new agreement, which can take six to 12 months or more,” Webster explains. “It’s a very powerful tool for visibility, and we’re beginning to reduce some of the delays in cycle time that have traditionally haunted us.”
Now in its second phase of development, the IADB is being expanded to include information residing in other databases at the service level, specific to overseas components. To illustrate how the system works, Webster cites a hypothetical scenario in which someone seeks international partners for quantum computer research. “We can plug in those key technology identifiers. We can very quickly determine existing tools at a service level and at the research level that may reveal where partner nations ... are investing in that particular technology area. It’s a very quick way to begin to refine our engagement,” he elaborates. “We save a year of negotiation time so that we can actually start sooner, scientist to scientist, lab to lab, collaborating on a particular technology project.”
Webster oversees two international cooperation initiatives: the Coalition Warfare Program (CWP) and the Defense Exportability Features (DEF) program. Both are small in terms of funding, major in terms of impact, he indicates. The CWP, funded at more than $10 million per year, is a rapid development and fielding effort delivering systems in direct response to needs identified by combatant commanders. “We have multiple examples where we’ve actually fielded unique and niche capabilities and products to warfighters—both ours and coalition partners—but we do it financially in a shared partnership with key allies,” he offers.
Since 2001, Webster’s office has contributed $133.4 million for select projects while foreign partners provided more than $400 million. The CWP includes 53 active programs. “It is one of the few programs where we only move forward if we have matching funds or greater,” Webster notes. “This is a small but unique program that is exclusively supportive of the combatant commanders and their regional allies and international partners.”
One CWP initiative has fielded conformal antennas for military vehicles, which are important in an era of ever-evolving electronic warfare, and will now focus on delivering next-generation technology to the battlefield. Other efforts include developing the Coalition Readiness Management System, a shipboard training system for contingency operations that is onboard more than 200 U.S. ships and vessels; a current proof of concept for a directed energy power system for ships and vessels; and an automated navigation and control project for unmanned maritime and unmanned ground vehicles.
Meanwhile, the DEF program, which was initiated by Webster’s predecessor, takes exportability into consideration during a system’s design. Normally, the military purchases a system and then must make changes so the technology can be exported. That process can be time-consuming and costly, especially for the first international buyer, who bears the brunt of the expense.
“As we’ve become more technologically advanced in our capabilities for our warfighters, that bill to develop an exportable variant is a bigger bill than it ever used to be because of the technology involved and the complexity,” Webster observes. “If we can have that exportability conversation and form decisions early in the development of a capability, we can make some engineering decisions in the formative stage that would reduce the cost and time to develop a future exportable variant of that product.”
The P-8A Poseidon intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance aircraft; the Small Diameter Bomb II; and the MQ-4C Triton, a variant of the Global Hawk unmanned aerial vehicle, have been selected for the DEF program.
The program is funded at about $4 million annually, and industry matches the investment. The money is used to study what engineering or specification changes will be needed in the future to create exportable products. “Whether we do re-engineering today or we do it the old way tomorrow, the studies are incredibly informative, and investment in those studies saves time,” Webster asserts.
For more from Webster on a partnership between the United States and Israel on advancing tunnel detection technology, see this sidebar to the article.