New Persian Gulf Security Effort Expected to Fuel Arms Sales in 2007

WASHINGTON — A new State Department effort to boost defense cooperation with Persian Gulf states likely will drive up weapons and equipment sales to those countries in fiscal year 2007, according to a senior Pentagon official.

In FY-06, which ended Sept. 30, requests from Middle Eastern countries for U.S. warfighting gear increased, spawned by “uncertainty” about what many think is a nuclear weapons program in Iran, Air Force Lt. Gen. Jeffrey Kohler, the Defense Security Cooperation Agency’s director, told Inside the Pentagon Oct. 26.

This trend is expected to continue in FY-07, he said. DSCA’s worldwide FY-06 sales totaled $20.9 billion — up from $10.6 billion in FY-05.

As part of the “Gulf Security Initiative,” State Department officials have been talking to Persian Gulf nations — including Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, Oman and the United Arab Emirates — about beefing up their defenses, Kohler said.

Improving those countries’ missile defense capabilities is “high on the agenda,” he added.

Even some countries that already have Patriot Advanced Capability-2 systems are in discussion with DSCA to upgrade to Patriot Advanced Capability-3, which offers better reliability against airborne targets and wider coverage, the director said.

Jason Greer, a State Department spokesman, said this week he could not answer specific questions on the new Gulf security effort, which is led by Assistant Secretary of State for Political-Military Affairs John Hillen.

The spokesman noted, however, that Hillen traveled to the region earlier this year to discuss “common security perceptions” with officials there.

Besides missile defense, deals with some Middle Eastern countries for border and maritime security equipment, including radar systems and communications gear, likely will be struck in FY-07, according to Kohler.

Oman and the United Arab Emirates, for example, have problems with illegal immigrants from other parts of the region, some of whom are “criminals and terrorists,” he told ITP. In addition, DSCA officials likely will put together a program to help Jordan improve its border security program, he added.

Fears about a nuclear-armed North Korea also has fueled some weapons sales among its neighbors in FY-06 and likely will continue to do so in FY-07, Kohler said. Japan, for example, has been “very keen” on Patriot systems and Standard Missile-3 Aegis radar capabilities for its Navy. South Korea, for its part, is working to field its F-15 aircraft, and officials in Washington and Seoul hope to finish an airborne early warning aircraft deal soon.

In addition, demand for “enabling capabilities,” such as unmanned aircraft and C4ISR equipment, from new NATO nations that fought alongside U.S. troops in Iraq likely will continue to increase in FY-07, according to Kohler.

As countries like Poland and Romania review their lessons learned from operations in theater, many have decided to restructure their military into a more modern, lighter and leaner force, he said.

The concept of network-centric operations, for example, is “very popular coming out of the invasion of Iraq . . . and everybody’s got to have it,” Kohler told ITP.

Meanwhile, Defense and State department officials are weighing combatant commanders’ proposals — worth $500 million — for inclusion in a new program to train and equip other countries’ militaries, according to Kohler. The program is commonly called “Section 1206″ after the part of the fiscal year 2006 Defense Authorization Act that gave it congressional backing.

The FY-07 Defense Authorization Act increased the amount the Pentagon, with State Department concurrence, may spend on these initiatives from $200 million to $300 million. Section 1206 funds are not appropriated for the Pentagon to use for a specific purpose; rather, DOD officials may take them out of the Pentagon’s operations and maintenance accounts as money there becomes available — for whatever reason — during the course of the fiscal year.

By January, senior DOD leaders could approve a “prioritized list” of projects under the effort, paired down to $300 million, Kohler said.

“Part of our role is to make sure that we can actually go out and execute this,” the director said. Funds spent under the Section 1206 authorization are a “different kind of money. That’s one-year money, so it has to be spent by the end of the fiscal year,” he added.

Conferees to the FY-07 defense authorization bill stressed they wanted “Section 1206″ funding authority to be understood as a “pilot program,” maintaining in their Sept. 29 legislative report that they “strongly discourage further modifications to [the existing] authorities until a track record implementing the pilot program . . . has been established.”

In addition, “the conferees strongly believe that foreign assistance programs are more appropriately funded through the foreign assistance accounts . . . administered by the State Department, and urge the administration to request sufficient funding for military assistance in those accounts in future years budget requests,” the report states.

Some funds for equipping African countries under the Trans-Saharan Counterterrorism Initiative likely will come from Section 1206 in FY-07, Kohler told ITP.

The program aims to improve the capabilities of African nations so they can better patrol their borders and protect their resources.

DOD leaders have started to pay more attention to African issues in recent years.

One reason for the continent’s increasing importance to Washington is imports from the continent make up 15 percent of the oil the United States receives from overseas, a number expected to go up in the coming years, experts say. Also, many in the United States are concerned that the vast, lawless spaces throughout Africa could be exploited by terrorists, narcotics traffickers or smugglers.

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