Graph of the week: FMS myths vs the figures
27 Sep 2012|

Since the United States is our biggest ally, as generations of white papers have told us, it’s fair to say we want to be interoperable with their forces in a coalition setting. With this in mind, the Defence Materiel Organisation (DMO) on behalf of governments of the day has made excellent use of the Foreign Military Sales (FMS) framework to procure various platforms and technologies.

The DMO has been castigated by local industry for relying on the FMS framework at the expense of Australian solutions and companies. So I’ve spent the last few months pulling together FMS figures from the US and Australia to try and get a better picture of what the dollars look like. Below is a graph of the value of FMS cases between 2000 and 2012 to date as announced by the Defence Security Cooperation Agency (DSCA). (A table summarising the major purchases can be found at the end of this post.)

Australian FMS approvals 2001 - 2012Sources: DSCA notifications, with historical exchange rate and CPI corrections.

In the US, Section 36(b) of the Arms Export Control Act (AECA) requires the President to give Congress advance written notification of the intent to sell defence articles, equipment and services. The DSCA prepares and delivers the notifications to Congress only with the approval of the State Department.

Once Congress has been notified of a proposed arms sale, the President must publish an unclassified version of the notification in the Federal Register. Thus, DSCA announces the details of the proposed deal. This doesn’t cover every single FMS cases that passes through the system but it gives a pretty good indication of the acquisition efforts.

For one thing, there aren’t near as many as I would have thought. Figures from our own department confirmed that between 2000 and 2011, 714 FMS cases passed through the system. The rough breakdown between sustainment and acquisition was about 50/50 but by value acquisition is the lion’s share.

The other fact to come to light that was of the hundreds of FMS cases put to the US, only 10 were not progressed. So once the DSCA makes an announcement that we’re interested in something, we tend to get it, regardless of the competition rhetoric in Australia.

The pros and cons of FMS are many varied but the moral of the story is:

  • Yes, Australia makes use of FMS
  • No, we don’t use it all the time
  • Yes, Australian content is limited to sustainment for the most part
  • Yes(?), there is sometimes no other way to access the technology.

For another view of FMS, ASPI’s 2012–13 Defence Budget Brief contains data collated by Mark Thomson. His graph showed the actual in-year spends rather than the approvals. For example, the $3.1 billion for the Super Hornet approval inn 2006 was spent over the following five or six years. The two views are complementary.

And, from the ‘shameless plug’ department, you can read more about the wider story in my magazine next month.

Katherine Ziesing is editor and sometimes promoter of Australian Defence Magazine, an independently published magazine on Defence capability and procurement. She is also a board member of the Sir Richard Williams Foundation, an air power think tank.

Table. Major Australian FMS purchases 2001–2012


Project name

Project value
2001 Joint Tactical Information Distribution Systems
Class 2H Airborne Terminals
2001 HARPOON Shipboard Launcher
Command Launch Control Systems
2002 RGM-84L Harpoon Missiles $90,000,000
2002 JAVELIN Anti-Tank Systems $106,000,000
2003 Combat Control System MK2 Block 1C Mod 6 Tactical Subsystems $75,000,000
2004 M1A1 AIM Tanks $475,000,000
2005 SM-2 Block IIIA Standard Missiles $315,000,000
2005 AEGIS Weapons Systems $350,000,000
2005 Standoff Land Attack Missile-Expanded Response Missile Systems $430,000,000
2005 Joint Air-to-Surface Stand Off Munition $163,000,000
2006 MK 41 Vertical Launch Systems $1,000,000,000
2006 C-17 GLOBEMASTER III Aircraft $2,000,000,000
2007 Weapons for F/A-18E/F Super Hornet Aircraft $617,000,000
2007 Modular Artillery Charge Systems (MACS) $40,000,000
2007 F/A-18E/F Super Hornet Aircraft $3,100,000,000
2008 Follow-On Support for F/A-18E/F Aircraft $1,500,000,000
2008 M777A2 155MM Light-Weight Howitzers $248,000,000
2008 AEGIS Combat System Components for Air Warfare Destroyer Program $1,150,000,000
2008 Large Aircraft Infrared Countermeasures
(LAIRCM) Systems
2008 Modular Artillery Charge Systems, XM982 Block Ia-1 Excalibur Projectiles $58,000,000
2009 USAF C-17 Globemaster Sustainment Partnership $300,000,000
2009 CH-47F Chinook helicopters $560,000,000
2010 MK 54 Lightweight Torpedoes $169,000,000
2010 MH-60R Multi-Mission Helicopters $2,100,000,000
2010 RQ-7B SHADOW 200 Unmanned Aircraft Systems $218,000,000
2011 C-27J Aircraft and Related Support $950,000,000
2011 C-17 GLOBEMASTER III Aircraft $300,000,000
2011 AIM-120C-7 Advanced Medium Range
Air-to-Air Missiles
2011 C-17 GLOBEMASTER III Aircraft $300,000,000
2011 Sustainment for MH-60R Helicopters $1,600,000,000
2011 SM-2 Block IIIB STANDARD Missiles $46,000,000
2012 EA-18G Airborne Electronic Attack (AEA)
Aircraft Modification Kits