Outsourcing national defense

Posted: Aug 13, 2004 12:00 AM

 WASHINGTON, D.C. -- When it comes to the war in Iraq, John Kerry has been steadfastly ambivalent. One day he's for it; the next day, he's not. In his own words, he voted for $87 billion to fund the war, before he voted against the same $87 billion. He has vehemently criticized the war in Iraq, but now says that he'd vote for it again. About the only statement on Iraq Kerry has made consistently is that he would "internationalize" the effort.

 Whatever "internationalize? means to Kerry, it's an unsettling and increasingly popular term. One need not be a wild-eyed xenophobe to feel a certain sense of anxiety when it is used in sentences concerning our national security.

 Kerry insists he can "win the peace" in Iraq by gaining more support from foreign countries. But the war isn't the only American dilemma Kerry believes would benefit from an "international? solution. On Aug.11, while campaigning in Nevada, Kerry announced that instead of storing dangerous nuclear waste at Yucca Mountain, as recommended by years of study, planning and research conducted by the U.S. Department of Energy, we should instead establish an "international" panel to tell us how and where America should store its nuclear waste. Unfortunately, John Kerry isn't the only one in Washington who has found an "international solution? for many American challenges. 

 Just a few days ago, I returned from my fourth sojourn in Iraq for Fox News. During each trip to the war zone, I have seen U.S. Marines and soldiers employing 240G machine guns -- made by Fabrique Nationale -- a Belgian company. The "Two Forty Golf,? as the troops refer to the weapon, is an excellent medium machine gun. It has now all but replaced the venerable American-made M-60 that was the U.S. weapon of choice from Vietnam to the first Gulf War. On their hips, nearly all American military personnel carry a 9mm pistol -- made by Beretta, an Italian company. Like the 240-G, the Beretta sidearm is lighter and has a higher rate of fire than the weapon it replaced -- the M-1911A1 .45 caliber pistol that saved my life in 1969.

 Both the 240G machine gun and the Beretta 9mm pistol have their supporters and detractors, and "old hands? can frequently be heard regaling the "new breed? of soldiers and Marines about the merits of the older, now discarded, U.S.-made weapons. But the problems inherent in buying foreign-made arms are far more complex and important than what one hears in an infantry chow line.

 Ever since the Global War on Terror began in 2001, one of the key weapons in the U.S. arsenal has been the Joint Direct Attack Munition (JDAM) -- the remarkably accurate high-altitude guided bomb that allows a precision attack on a specific target with minimum chance of collateral damage. Thousands of JDAMs have been used in Afghanistan and Iraq over the course of the last three years.

 Some of the Special Operations troops who participated in Operation Enduring Freedom maintain that the Taliban might still control Kabul if it weren't for the JDAMs delivered in support of their ground campaign. And during the first phase of Operation Iraqi Freedom, I witnessed countless examples of the weapon's pinpoint accuracy and effectiveness. Unfortunately, a crucial component of the JDAM was manufactured by a Swiss company, Micro Crystal. Because the Swiss opposed the war in Iraq, the government in Berne ordered the company to stop shipment of any more JDAM elements. It took several months for the Department of Defense to find alternative sources for the critical parts.

 One might hope that the "international? experience with the JDAM would have been instructive to the Pentagon's procurement wizards -- but apparently not. Last week, the Department of Defense awarded a $6 billion contract to a consortium lead by Lockheed Martin to build a new Aerial Common Sensor (ACS) reconnaissance aircraft for the Army and Navy. The Pentagon could have chosen a competing bid that would have mounted our highly sensitive intelligence sensors on a U.S.-made Gulfstream jet -- but went ahead and approved a Brazilian-French Embraer aircraft instead.

 The Pentagon's "buy-international? enthusiasm for the ACS project will result in billions of U.S. dollars being spent to create thousands of jobs in other countries. Frank Larkin of the Association of Aerospace Workers says he is concerned "anytime taxpayer dollars are used to create good-paying jobs in countries like Brazil or Chile that are desperately needed here in the U.S."

 But even worse than the job and dollar transfer is the likelihood that very sensitive U.S. intelligence technology will be conveyed into foreign hands, as well. When I asked a senior intelligence official about the prospect that such a technology transfer would take place during the construction of the ACS aircraft, he told me it was "inevitable.?

 Not even the president is safe from those who want to "outsource? America's military hardware. The Pentagon is now debating whether an American or a foreign manufacturer will make the next generation of helicopters used by the commander in chief. The current, aging fleet of "Marine One? helos have been built and serviced by Connecticut-based Sikorsky since the 1950s, but the "internationalists? across the Potomac are said to be "leaning? toward acquiring the Italian-built Augusta-Westland 101 as a replacement. Former U.S. Sen. Malcolm Wallop is concerned that such a decision means "many high-value, engineering and technology-related positions will be going to Italy." But that may not matter. The Italian chopper has the backing of Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton.

 Perhaps it's time that the Pentagon's procurement "professionals? heeded the advice of House Armed Services Committee Chairman Duncan Hunter in the aftermath of the JDAM debacle: "If you rely on a foreign source that's not reliable, it may end up causing you deaths on a battlefield." Would the French really care?