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Make America, wait, what again? US Army may need foreign weapons to keep up

Putting the US of A first could require arms from Europe

By Thomas Claburn, 23 Jan 2017

Making America great again may require foreign-made weapon systems, a possibility that would contravene the Trump administration's stated goal to "buy American and hire American."

A Congressional Research Service (CRS) report published last week, "Selected Foreign Counterparts of U.S. Army Ground Combat Systems and Implications for Combat Operations and Modernization," finds that the US Army has failed to modernize its ground combat systems and now faces the possibility of operating under the limitations of Cold War-era equipment for years to come.

The report cites Army leaders fretting that for the first time since World War I, the US does not have a new ground combat vehicle under development. And it highlights concerns voiced in defense-oriented publications [paywalled; free 30-day subscription] that our enemies and even allies have modernized to the extent that the they have "outpaced us in some areas."

The US military has in the past purchased foreign-made weapon systems, like German-made 60 Fuchs NBC reconnaissance vehicles, which it rebranded XM-93 Fox. The CRS report suggests policymakers may want to do so again.

"The rise of increasingly capable foreign ground combat systems, the length of time it takes to develop and field a major combat system under current DoD acquisition regulations, and ongoing and anticipated defense budgetary constraints might present policymakers with an opportunity to revisit the viability of acquiring existing state-of-the art foreign ground combat systems and modifying them to meet Army requirements, as has been done in the past," the report says.

The report also cites a senior Army official who contends that Russian rocket, missile, and cannon artillery systems have greater range and are more lethal than US Army artillery and munitions.

Playing down the possibility that the US might engage in direct conflict with Russia or China, the report says US defense officials believe "we will surely fight their systems."

Steven Aftergood, who heads the Federation of American Scientists' Project on Government Secrecy, noted in a blog post on Monday that the CRS report does not describe the military in the dire terms Trump used in his inauguration speech.

In an email to The Register, Aftergood said that while shopping for weapon systems abroad conflicts with the new administration's stated policies, it might still be worthwhile.

"The possible acquisition of foreign weapon systems would be at odds with several declared positions of the Trump Administration," said Aftergood. "First, it is contrary to the 'buy American' stance. And it would cede technological leadership in military systems to a foreign producer. Depending on circumstances, however, it might still be the right move." ®

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