November 10, 2015 / 9:02 AM / 4 years ago

UPDATE 1-U.S. Air Force leader backs moves to speed up arms sales approvals

(Adds details, quotes)

By Andrea Shalal

DUBAI, Nov 10 (Reuters) - U.S. Air Force Secretary Deborah James said on Tuesday it was important to speed up approvals of foreign arms sales, and she was open to creating a White House-level position to oversee the process across government.

James told reporters at the Dubai Airshow that she had heard the concerns of U.S. companies, who say delays in approving foreign arms sales may prompt potential buyers to make non-U.S. purchases.

The Air Force would look for ways to speed up its internal processes and could back the appointment of a high-level official to oversee the approvals process, she said.

“It makes some good sense to put somebody at a high level of government that could help to oversee and coordinate,” she said. “That might well be an idea that we should implement.”

Bob Durbin, chief operating officer of the Aerospace Industries Association (AIA), the largest U.S. aerospace industry trade group, told Reuters the U.S. government was taking steps to better coordinate reviews of arms sales across agencies, and reach out more to industry to understand its concerns.

But more work was needed to synchronize and accelerate the overall process given mounting frustration among buying countries about the pace of U.S. export reviews, he said.

Jeff Kohler, Boeing’s vice president for international business development, told reporters on Monday that the plane maker was “a little frustrated” with delays in getting U.S. government approvals for fighter jet sales to countries in the Gulf region.

“We’re a little frustrated, and I know the customers are in the region,” he said.

Boeing did not give any specifics, but sources familiar with the matter say a $3 billion deal for 28 F/A-18E/F fighter jets for Kuwait that includes options for 12 more jets, and a separate deal for F-15 fighters for Qatar, have languished in the U.S. regulatory process.

U.S. defence companies are counting on foreign orders to offset a drop in U.S. military spending.

Kohler said the U.S. government had not expanded its capacity to process arms deals despite a large rise in transactions by big weapons makers in recent years.

AIA has been pushing for years for the U.S. government to adopt a national defence export strategy, and appoint a senior, White House-level official to coordinate the efforts, said Remy Nathan, vice president of international affairs for the group.

“It needs to be a strategy that is embraced and implemented at the highest levels,” Nathan said. “You need an authority that is capable of crossing all of those different silos and you don’t really get there unless you have authority from the top.”

James met AIA officials and members at the Dubai Airshow on Monday to listen to their concerns. (Reporting by Andrea Shalal; editing by Nadia Saleem and Susan Fenton)

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