Pentagon's chief buyer wants to speed up foreign arms sales

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Pentagon’s chief weapons buyer is eager to speed up foreign military sales to allies, and boost the profits and financial health of U.S. defense contractors, she told reporters ahead of her trip this week to the Dubai Airshow.

Undersecretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology, and Logistics Ellen Lord will be the Pentagon’s most senior official at the annual air show, which starts on Sunday.

Foreign military sales “are absolutely critical for a variety of reasons. One, building partnership capability and capacity. It’s a real tool for us in terms of international relations,” she said.

Lord was formerly CEO of defense contractor Textron Systems, an aerospace and defense company that makes drones and missiles.

“When I was in the industry, and what I hear from industry now, is they would like to see things move along more quickly,” Lord told reporters at the Pentagon this week, adding that she also wants to cut in half the time it takes the U.S. to complete a weapons purchase.

Her team at the Pentagon is working to halve the time between getting an indication of interest and actually getting a defense contract. At the same time they are “working very, very hard” to reduce the time for foreign military sales.

She said international sales of U.S. arms are critical to the health of the U.S. defense industrial base.

The Pentagon typically takes months and often years to make procurement decisions especially for major weapons programs.

There are two major ways foreign governments purchase arms from U.S. companies. Direct commercial sales, negotiated between a government and a company; and foreign military sales, where a foreign government typically contacts a Department of Defense official at the U.S. embassy in their capital. Both require approval by the U.S. government.

U.S. arms exports, measured by production costs, grew more than 50 percent under President Barack Obama. The trend has been continuing under President Donald Trump.

The Trump administration is nearing completion of new “Buy American” rules to make it easier to sell U.S.-made military drones overseas and compete against fast-growing Chinese and Israeli rivals, senior U.S. officials said.

On her way to Dubai, Lord will make a pitstop in Italy to tour the Lockheed Martin Corp F-35 factory in Cameri, an hour’s drive from Milan.

At the air show, Lord planned to have bilateral meetings with the host country the United Arab Emirates, as well as India, Ukraine and Australia.

Reporting by Mike Stone in Washington, DC; Editing by Susan Thomas