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Thursday, September 01, 2016

How the Pentagon Became Walmart

Photo:  Getty Images

“Asking warriors to do everything poses great dangers for our country — and the military.
Our armed services have become the one-stop shop for America’s policymakers.
Here’s the vicious circle in which we’ve trapped ourselves: As we face novel security threats from novel quarters — emanating from nonstate terrorist networks, from cyberspace, and from the impact of poverty, genocide, or political repression, for instance — we’ve gotten into the habit of viewing every new threat through the lens of “war,” thus asking our military to take on an ever-expanding range of nontraditional tasks. But viewing more and more threats as “war” brings more and more spheres of human activity into the ambit of the law of war, with its greater tolerance of secrecy, violence, and coercion — and its reduced protections for basic rights.
Meanwhile, asking the military to take on more and more new tasks requires higher military budgets, forcing us to look for savings elsewhere, so we freeze or cut spending on civilian diplomacy and development programs. As budget cuts cripple civilian agencies, their capabilities dwindle, and we look to the military to pick up the slack, further expanding its role.
“If your only tool is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.” The old adage applies here as well. If your only functioning government institution is the military, everything looks like a war, and “war rules” appear to apply everywhere, displacing peacetime laws and norms. When everything looks like war, everything looks like a military mission, displacing civilian institutions and undermining their credibility while overloading the military.
More is at stake than most of us realize. Recall Shakespeare’s Henry V:
In peace there’s nothing so becomes a man
As modest stillness and humility:
But when the blast of war blows in our ears,
Then imitate the action of the tiger;
Stiffen the sinews, summon up the blood,
Disguise fair nature with hard-favour’d rage 
In war, we expect warriors to act in ways that would be immoral and illegal in peacetime. But when the boundaries around war and the military expand and blur, we lose our ability to determine which actions should be praised and which should be condemned.
For precisely this reason, humans have sought throughout history to draw sharp lines between war and peace — and between the role of the warrior and the role of the civilian. Until less than a century ago, for instance, most Western societies maintained that wars should be formally declared, take place upon clearly delineated battlefields, and be fought by uniformed soldiers operating within specialized, hierarchical military organizations. In different societies and earlier times, humans developed other rituals to delineate war’s boundaries, from war drums and war sorcery to war paint and complex initiation rites for warriors.
Like a thousand other human tribes before us, we modern Americans also engage in elaborate rituals to distinguish between warriors and civilians: Our soldiers shear off their hair, display special symbols on their chests, engage in carefully choreographed drill ceremonies, and name their weapons for fearsome spirits and totem animals (the Hornet, the Black Hawk, the Reaper). And despite the changes ushered in by the 9/11 attacks, most of us view war as a distinct and separate sphere, one that shouldn’t intrude into our everyday world of offices, shopping malls, schools, and soccer games. Likewise, we relegate war to the military, a distinct social institution that we simultaneously lionize and ignore. War, we like to think, is an easily recognizable exception to the normal state of affairs and the military an institution that can be easily, if tautologically, defined by its specialized, war-related functions.
But in a world rife with transnational terrorist networks, cyberwarriors, and disruptive nonstate actors, this is no longer true. Our traditional categories — war and peace, military and civilian — are becoming almost useless.
In a cyberwar or a war on terrorism, there can be no boundaries in time or space: We can’t point to the battlefield on a map or articulate circumstances in which such a war might end. We’re no longer sure what counts as a weapon, either: A hijacked passenger plane? A line of computer code? We can’t even define the enemy: Though the United States has been dropping bombs in Syria for almost two years, for instance, no one seems sure if our enemy is a terrorist organization, an insurgent group, a loose-knit collection of individuals, a Russian or Iranian proxy army, or perhaps just chaos itself.
We’ve also lost any coherent basis for distinguishing between combatants and civilians: Is a Chinese hacker a combatant? What about a financier for Somalia’s al-Shabab, or a Pakistani teen who shares extremist propaganda on Facebook, or a Russian engineer paid by the Islamic State to maintain captured Syrian oil fields?
When there’s a war, the law of war applies, and states and their agents have great latitude in using lethal force and other forms of coercion. Peacetime law is the opposite, emphasizing individual rights, due process, and accountability.
When we lose the ability to draw clear, consistent distinctions between war and not-war, we lose any principled basis for making the most vital decisions a democracy can make: Which matters, if any, should be beyond the scope of judicial review? When can a government have “secret laws”? When can the state monitor its citizens’ phone calls and email? Who can be imprisoned and with what degree, if any, of due process? Where, when, and against whom can lethal force be used? Should we consider U.S. drone strikes in Yemen or Libya the lawful wartime targeting of enemy combatants or nothing more than simple murder?
When we heedlessly expand what we label “war,” we also lose our ability to make sound decisions about which tasks we should assign to the military and which should be left to civilians.
Today, American military personnel operate in nearly every country on Earth — and do nearly every job on the planet. They launch raids and agricultural reform projects, plan airstrikes and small-business development initiatives, train parliamentarians and produce TV soap operas. They patrol for pirates, vaccinate cows, monitor global email communications, and design programs to prevent human trafficking.
Many years ago, when I was in law school, I applied for a management consulting job at McKinsey & Co. During one of the interviews, I was given a hypothetical business scenario: “Imagine you run a small family-owned general store. Business is good, but one day you learn that Walmart is about to open a store a block away. What do you do?”
“Roll over and die,” I said immediately.
The interviewer’s pursed lips suggested that this was the wrong answer, and no doubt a plucky mom-and-pop operation wouldn’t go down without a fight: They’d look for a niche, appeal to neighborhood sentiment, or maybe get artisanal and start serving hand-roasted chicory soy lattes. But we all know the odds would be against them: When Walmart shows up, the writing is on the wall.
Like Walmart, today’s military can marshal vast resources and exploit economies of scale in ways impossible for small mom-and-pop operations. And like Walmart, the tempting one-stop-shopping convenience it offers has a devastating effect on smaller, more traditional enterprises — in this case, the State Department and other U.S. civilian foreign-policy agencies, which are steadily shrinking into irrelevance in our ever-more militarized world. The Pentagon isn’t as good at promoting agricultural or economic reform as the State Department or the U.S. Agency for International Development — but unlike our civilian government agencies, the Pentagon has millions of employees willing to work insane hours in terrible conditions, and it’s open 24/7.
It’s fashionable to despise Walmart — for its cheap, tawdry goods, for its sheer vastness and mindless ubiquity, and for the human pain we suspect lies at the heart of the enterprise. Most of the time, we prefer not to see it and use zoning laws to exile its big-box stores to the commercial hinterlands away from the center of town. But as much as we resent Walmart, most of us would be hard-pressed to live without it.
As the U.S. military struggles to define its role and mission, it evokes similarly contradictory emotions in the civilian population. Civilian government officials want a military that costs less but provides more, a military that stays deferentially out of strategy discussions but remains eternally available to ride to the rescue. We want a military that will prosecute our ever-expanding wars but never ask us to face the difficult moral and legal questions created by the eroding boundaries between war and peace.
We want a military that can solve every global problem but is content to remain safely quarantined on isolated bases, separated from the rest of us by barbed wire fences, anachronistic rituals, and acres of cultural misunderstanding. Indeed, even as the boundaries around war have blurred and the military’s activities have expanded, the U.S. military itself — as a human institution — has grown more and more sharply delineated from the broader society it is charged with protecting, leaving fewer and fewer civilians with the knowledge or confidence to raise questions about how we define war or how the military operates.
It’s not too late to change all this.
No divine power proclaimed that calling something “war” should free us from the constraints of morality or common sense or that only certain tasks should be the proper province of those wearing uniforms. We came up with the concepts, definitions, laws, and institutions that now trap and confound us — and they’re no more eternal than the rituals and categories used by any of the human tribes that have gone before us.
We don’t have to accept a world full of boundary-less wars that can never end, in which the military has lost any coherent sense of purpose or limits. If the moral and legal ambiguity of U.S.-targeted killings bothers us, or we worry about government secrecy or indefinite detention, we can mandate new checks and balances that transcend the traditional distinctions between war and peace. If we don’t like the simultaneous isolation and Walmartization of our military, we can change the way we recruit, train, deploy, and treat those who serve, change the way we define the military’s role, and reinvigorate our civilian foreign-policy institutions.
After all, few generals actually want to preside over the military’s remorseless Walmartization: They too fear that, in the end, the nation’s over-reliance on an expanding military risks destroying not only the civilian competition but the military itself. They worry that the armed services, under constant pressure to be all things to all people, could eventually find themselves able to offer little of enduring value to anyone.
Ultimately, they fear that the U.S. military could come to resemble a Walmart on the day after a Black Friday sale: stripped almost bare by a society both greedy for what it can provide and resentful of its dominance, with nothing left behind but demoralized employees and some shoddy mass-produced items strewn haphazardly around the aisles.”

Monday, August 01, 2016

Iraq And The Cost of Geopolitical Hubris


“These leaders created a false case for invading Iraq and then utterly mismanaged the occupation.

It seems a long time ago, and in a world far, far away, that George W. Bush, Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld, enthusiastically supported by Tony Blair, went to war with Iraq.

Yet now a long and long-overdue British report into Britain’s role in that war, the report of the official and independent Iraq Inquiry Committee led by John Chilcot, has been published, reopening wounds and forcing Mr. Blair back into the limelight to defend why, despite so much evidence and advice against joining in the Bush administration’s misguided enthusiasm for invading Iraq, he chose as prime minister to throw his full support behind America.

Mr. Blair’s message to Mr. Bush at the time — “I will be with you, whatever” — leaps out painfully from the report’s 2.6 million words, proclaiming a blind loyalty that the Iraq war only helped erode, and that seems especially archaic now that Britain’s vote to leave the European Union has raised questions about its role in NATO and its place as America’s closest European ally.

Mr. Blair’s critics are no doubt disappointed that in response to the Chilcot report, he has continued to defend his actions. “I believe we made the right decision and the world is better and safer as a result of it,” he said, which seems willfully blind to the current chaos in Iraq and beyond. But if he would not confess that he erred in his decision, he did acknowledge, “There’s not a single day that goes by that I don’t think about it.”

His plea for understanding the context in which he made his decision to stand with the United States, the confusion and the need for action after the terrorist attacks of 9/11, seems tragically inadequate and self-serving with so many lives lost — more than 200 Britons, at least 4,500 Americans and more than 150,000 Iraqis, most of them civilians — and so much treasure spent prosecuting a war that was built on falsehoods.

While there have been no consequences for Mr. Blair himself, the political judgment of the British has been decisive, rendering the Iraq war as a defining blot on Mr. Blair’s 10 years in office.

The report should not be read as an indictment only of Mr. Blair’s foolish decision. Though the United States was not the subject of the inquiry, it was the Bush administration that falsely sold and launched the invasion. There has been no comparable, comprehensive official inquiry in Washington by independent investigators into the origin and politics of the fateful decision to go to war. Years have passed, but the public, in the United States and abroad, still yearns for the full truth and deserves an American investigation on the scale of the 9/11 Commission.

Given the partisan divide in Washington, however, it is hard to believe a similar exercise would produce anything even remotely dispassionate or honest.

And yet it is the United States, far more than Britain, that needs to understand how national policy can be hijacked by lies and ideology so that there’s less chance it will happen again.”

Iraq War, Lies 13 Years Later

Friday, July 01, 2016

Military to Civilian Revolving Door is Closing


“A 50-year restriction on the rehiring of military retirees as Defense Department civilians would be reinstated, requiring at least 180 days from when they leave the service to when — and if — they are re-hired.

That way the job can be open to competition.

The Senate voted last week to put it to a stop as part of the massive military policy bill that now goes to the House for conference.

Since the terror attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, military officers facing retirement have had a revolving door to walk through to a civilian job at the Defense Department.
Often it’s the same job they held while in uniform, and often they start the Monday after they retire and start collecting their military pension.

Under this arrangement, 41,630 military retirees — many of them senior officers — walked back into the Defense Department as civilians between September 2001 and August 2014, according to a government study. None of these jobs was advertised to the public. More than a third were hired before they officially retired, and more than half started their civilian careers within a pay period after taking off their uniform, an indication that no one competed with them for the job.

The Senate Armed Service Committee’s report on the issue said the current system “creates suspicions” that the federal merit system is being undermined.

The rule was waived after the Sept. 11 attacks 16 years ago to help staff up the Pentagon for the war on terror. But now the committee, led by Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), a former prisoner of war in Vietnam, is adamant that the flood of retirees who benefited have blocked more qualified civilians who did not serve from getting hired to Defense jobs.

Source: Committee report, National Defense Authorization Act.

“Most military retirees and other veterans already receive hiring preferences in recognition of their service,” says the committee’s report on the National Defense Authorization Act, explaining why the policy should change. “Beyond that, the committee believes veterans and retirees should compete on equal footing with other qualified applicants.”

By leaning too heavily on military retirees without allowing other candidates to compete for these jobs, the Pentagon is closing its ranks to a diverse workforce, the committee report says, “…not just in terms of diversity as it is traditionally defined, but also on diversity of thought, experience, and background within the Department that is desirable in any organization.”

McCain’s declined to comment, but his staff referred a reporter to the committee report.
The change, along with another provision of the defense bill that would scale back hiring preferences for veterans applying for federal jobs from outside the government, represent the biggest changes to the Obama administration’s push to reward veterans. Increasingly, hiring managers and members of Congress are concerned that the leg up given to veterans is not always bringing the most qualified candidates to federal agencies.

The provision on military retirees directs the Defense Department to report by January on how many were hired to civilian jobs in 2015 and 2016; whether they were officers or enlisted personnel and how many men and women were in the overall pool of applicants for civilian jobs.

Defense officials also would have to report on something that right now is hard to quantify: How the soft landing enjoyed by military retirees “has impacted .. the ability of the Department and the military services to consistently hire best-qualified individuals for federal service,” according to the committee report.

Defense Department officials declined comment because the legislation is pending.

The proposed change is drawing mixed reactions from veterans groups. The Military Officers Association of America is in opposition, spokesman Jonathan Withington said in this statement: “Existing policy is consistent with the country’s obligation to provide career opportunities to those who served, especially disabled veterans.”

But the American Legion, the country’s largest service organization, said it supports putting retirees back on equal footing with civilian job candidates.

“We support closing this loophole, because now if a military job becomes vacant it won’t be refilled by another military personnel,” said Louis Celli, Jr., the Legion’s acting legislative director. The current system is “degrading the fighting force,” he said.

And the current system benefits senior officers at the expense of junior ones, Celli said, by allowing them to walk into civilian jobs without competing for them. Someone who retired at a more junior rank would actually benefit from the extra points given to veterans competing for civilian jobs, he said.

“Senior military members seem to have the market cornered on these plush positions,” Celli said. “You’ve got these retired generals who get full retirement benefits and they start a second career, just like that.”

A spokesman for the House Armed Services Committee said lawmakers have not yet taken a position on the proposal.”

Friday, May 27, 2016

Memorial Day - Remembering the Minnesota Vets Home Garden & Gardener

 & Vet Gardner Gordy Schmidt (Deceased)


The Garden is gone and we are humming the Old Joni Mitchel Song:

"They took all the trees
And put them in a tree museum
And they charged all the people
A dollar and a half to see 'em
Don't it always seem to go
That you don't know what you've got
'Till it's gone
They paved paradise
And they put up a parking lot"

Sunday, May 01, 2016

Lessons from Vietnam for the US On ISIL



Friday, April 01, 2016

Few Military Veterans in Key National Security Roles


“Too few veterans are helping shape national security decisions today.

The lack of veterans in key political posts has left a “deficit” in critical military and security discussions, and helped widen the knowledge gap between civilians and those who served in the military.

[Former Defense Secretary] Hagel said the lack of veterans in key political posts has left a “deficit” in critical military and security discussions, and helped widen the knowledge gap between civilians and those who served in the military.

“When you look at the presidential candidates today, not one is a veteran,” Hagel told the crowd of more than 200. “Our current president and vice president are not veterans. The entire senior White House security staff, none are veterans.”

“That doesn’t mean they’re bad people, that doesn’t mean they’re not smart, that doesn’t mean they don’t care about this country. But there is something missing here. And at a time when everything is hair-triggered, everything is nitro glycerine, and miscalculations can lead to a lot of trouble, we need veterans input.”

Hagel’s remarks were part of a larger event by HillVets to highlight contributions by military, veterans and advocates in politics and wider cultural efforts. The group honored Shaye Lynne Haver and Kristen Marie Griest, who last August became the first women to graduate from Army Ranger School, with a new leadership and service award.

Hagel praised their accomplishments and called the entire U.S. military the best trained and most skilled fighting force in the world.

But he also said he worries that too few Americans understand what that means.

“You all know the numbers — less than 1 percent of our society serves,” he said. “That does not mean this country doesn’t value our military or doesn’t value our veterans. Of course they do.

“But there is developing a wider and deeper gap between civilian society and our military, and our veterans.”

The Burden of War Falls on Fewer Americans Than Ever Before

The former defense secretary and two-term senator said he wants to see veterans in government “in all capacities,” including federal staffers and elected offices.

In the late 1970s, more than 70 percent of Congress has military experience in their backgrounds. At the start of the current Congress, that number dropped below 20 percent.

“We’re losing that perspective, and it’s not good for our country,” he said. “It’s not good for our policy making. We need the input of our veterans.”
Former Defense Secretary Hagel on Veterans In National Security Issues

Tuesday, March 01, 2016

Red Flags of Waste in the FY 2017 Defense Budget

“The defense budget process for 2016 (FY 2017) has just started, with the Administration’s $582.7 defense budget.

Here are red flags of waste:

 Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO). Defense spending is divided into a base amount, in the regular defense spending bill, and another account, OCO, intended for unpredictable wars and commitments abroad, in a supplemental spending bill in 2017. Last year, Congress threatened to put massive amounts of regular weapons purchases into the OCO, to get around spending ceilings (which do not apply to OCO).

Because of last year’s deal about budget ceilings between the President and the Congressional Republicans, it seemed like the OCO maneuver, for padding the defense spending bill, would stop. Wishful thinking. It won’t. The Administration has announced a proposed $59 billion OCO, most of which would actually devoted to overseas operations (although $8 billion is in regular weapons buys). The House majority intends to treat that figure as a floor, not a ceiling, and want to fatten up defense spending via OCO by at least $15 billion, making room for defense pork.

Wasteful individual weapons. The prize, in terms of massive criticism, goes to the Littoral Combat Ship (LCS), meant for combat in shallow waters. A few months ago, Secretary of Defense Ash Carter wrote a blistering memo about how the Navy had to cut back its LCS purchases. Just recently, Senators John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Jack Reed (D-R.I.) said “practically no LCS mission capabilities [have been] proven.” But, the Administration budget would still buy two, and, Congress will want more.

The next overruns of the naval aircraft carrierm known as CVN 79. The Government Accountability Office (GAO) wrote about it, “Poor Outcomes Are the Predictable Consequences of the Prevalent Acquisition Culture.” The carrier is estimated at $11.5 billion, but, says GAO, “CVN 79 is likely to cost more than estimated.” Its predecessor has been plagued with cost overruns and other problems.

 More F-35s. GAO has written voluminously about the shortcomings of the F-35. But, this Lockheed plane is a favorite of the powerful delegation from Texas, where it is made. Per the budget, the Air Force reduced its buys by 5, but, the Navy and the Marine Corps will buy 13 more. Congress will spend for even more.

The Global Hawk. Some years ago, there was an effort to cancel this. As Taxpayers for Common Sense entitled their analysis, “Pricey Drone is a Waste of Money.” It was unreliable in bad weather and needed an expensive retrofit to counter anti-aircraft, and it seemed like there was not a need for both the U-2 and the Global Hawk since both do reconnaissance.. But, the budget includes both.

For some time, the Defense Department has been preparing to undertake a whole new nuclear Cold War. For the Cold War nuclear competition with the Soviet Union, the U.S. had a triad of nuclear armed submarines, bombers, and missiles. The department envisages a complete set of new weapons for all three legs of the triad (call them #6 for submarines, 7 for bombers, and 8 for missiles), plus the new nuclear warheads (9). Altogether, the “nuclear modernization” will cost about a trillion dollars.

Kingston Reif of the Arms Control Association wrote, “The United States is planning to rebuild all three legs of the nuclear triad and their associated warheads at a cost and on a schedule that many military leaders say is unsustainable.” But this budget includes $8 billion for submarines, with $40 billion planned, fully funds the nuclear bombers, and spends $9 billion on nuclear warheads.

Further: As for the proposed $1.4 billion for new nuclear submarine, with $10 billion over 5 years, it will benefit Senator Reed’[s state (R.I.) and Senator Blumenthal’s state (Conn.) – both on Armed Services — because of General Dynamics facilities.

Further: In the realm of strategic nuclear weapons, the Defense Department budget does propose to bring to an end one gigantic white elephant, a plant to convert the old plutonium warheads to reactor fuel (MOX). But, a strong story in the New York Times showed that the delegation from South Carolina (the plant location) will probably keep funding it.

Guantanamo Bay. Secretary Carter says he still wants to close Gitmo, which would save half a billion dollars. Needless to say, Congress will not agree.”

Monday, February 01, 2016

U.S. Small Business Administration Offers Help to Veterans


"The U.S. Small Business Administration has resources available for veterans who want to start their own businesses or for small businesses that may have been affected by employees who have been deployed.
The numbers are substantial, according to the SBA: Nearly one in 10 small businesses in this country are veteran-owned; veterans are 45 percent more likely to be self-employed than non-veterans; and businesses owned by female vets have increased 297 percent from 2007 to 2012.
The SBA’s website has collected a list of programs that can offer help, especially in navigating the complexities of returning home for members of the Guard or Reserve after being deployed.
It has information on starting a business, financing, mentoring and training and selling to the government. It can be found on the website Veteran Owned Businesses
One example of a resource is the Military Economic Injury Loan, which provides funds to eligible small businesses to meet operating expenses when an essential employee is called to active duty. The filing period for businesses to apply begins on the date the essential employee is ordered to active duty and ends one year after the essential employee is discharged or released from active duty.
Another aspect to consider are laws that make federal contracting more attractive to veterans, particularly those with a service-connected disability. The Veterans Entrepreneurship and Small Business Development Act of 1999 established an annual government-wide goal of awarding at least 3 percent of all federal contracts to small businesses owned or controlled by service-disabled veterans.
There’s also Boots to Business, a two-step entrepreneurship training program open to service members and their spouses. The two-day course introduces participants to the opportunities and challenges of business ownership. An eight-week online course allows participants to work through the fundamentals of developing a workable business plan."

Friday, January 01, 2016

U.S. Retains No. 1 Ranking in Global Arms Sales


“American companies account for seven of the top 10 firms, and the other three are European.

New data on global arms sales show steady dominance of the market by U.S. manufacturers even as the volume of transactions by American and European companies has slipped over the past several years.

Sales by the top 100 firms have dipped by 1.5 percent in real terms between 2013 and 2014, and most of the drop came from companies in North America and Western Europe, whereas companies located in other regions of the world have collectively increased their military and defense sales, says a new report by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute.

This is the fourth consecutive year in which the largest arms producers have seen a drop in sales, according to the SIPRI survey released Dec. 14.

Excluding China, deals by the world’s top 100 arms exporters reached $401 billion in 2014, and U.S. companies captured 54.4 percent. U.S. companies saw business decrease by 4.1 per cent between 2013 and 2014, which is similar to the rate of decline seen from 2012 to 2013.

One company bucking the downward trend is Lockheed Martin, whose sales grew by 3.9 percent in 2014 to $37.5 billion. Lockheed Martin’s lead over the second ranked company Boeing — which had total arms sales of $28.3 billion — increased by $4.4 billion in 2014.

“With the acquisition of helicopter manufacturer Sikorsky Aircraft Corp. in 2015, the gap between Lockheed Martin and other companies ranked in the top 10 will widen even further next year,” said Aude Fleurant, director of SIPRI’s arms and military expenditure program.
Western European companies’ arms sales decreased by 7.4 percent in 2014, SIPRI estimated. The exceptions were German and Swiss companies, whose business grew last year.

The SIPRI report confirms what many U.S. industry analysts have said for years about the global defense market becoming more competitive and creating long-term challenges for American firms.

Russia’s arms industry sales continued to rise in 2014 despite difficult national economic conditions, the report said. The number of Russian companies ranked in the top 100 went up from 9 to 11. “Russian companies are riding the wave of increasing national military spending and exports,” said SIPRI Senior Researcher Siemon Wezeman.

The survey identified several “emerging producers” that continue to strengthen their presence in the top 100. They include Brazil, India, South Korea and Turkey. Although their combined arms sales represent only 3.7 percent of the top 100, their revenues rose by 5.1 percent between 2013 and 2014.

While American defense contractors are not expected to relinquish their grip on the market any time soon, U.S. analysts have raised red flags.

“The appreciation of the U.S. dollar could be a huge problem” as U.S. defense contractors try to grow internationally, said Frank Finelli, managing director of The Carlyle Group, a private equity firm. If today’s currency trends continue, European and Russian weapons could become 30 percent cheaper than those made by the United States, Finelli said during a panel discussion at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

Currency issues aside, U.S. companies will retain their advantage as long as foreign buyers continue to value their military ties with the United States, observed Joel Johnson, executive director of The Teal Group, a market analysis firm.

“Obviously, the exchange rate is not helpful, but I don’t think it is critical,” Johnson told National Defense. “Countries that want a U.S. weapon system because of performance and long-term relationships with the U.S. military are likely to go our way anyway.”

A more worrisome trend for American companies is the commercialization of defense technology. “I do think in the future we will see competition from countries that can provide an ’80 percent solution’ at 80 percent of the price, which may affect both us and our traditional European competitors,” Johnson noted. “Turkey, Ukraine, South Korea are worth watching, particularly with respect to ground equipment.”

The international arms market spotlight in the coming years will be on the F-35 joint strike fighter. Manufacturer Lockheed Martin and its major subcontractors have to be worried that if the Pentagon decides to cut back on future orders, the unit price of the aircraft could increase and make it unaffordable vis-à-vis other global competitors, Johnson said. “I suspect the problem is less about the exchange rate and more about U.S. budget restraints.” 

If the United States decides to curtail F-35 buys, “it could scare off foreign buyers,” he said. “The unit cost impact will be greater than exchange rate impact.”