January 8, 2021 | Insight

U.S.-Israel Operations-Technology Working Group Authorization Provides Opportunity for Biden Administration

January 8, 2021 | Insight

U.S.-Israel Operations-Technology Working Group Authorization Provides Opportunity for Biden Administration

The National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for Fiscal Year 2021, which became law last week, includes a provision authorizing the establishment of a U.S.-Israel Operations-Technology Working Group (OTWG). This working group could systematically improve military research and development (R&D) cooperation between the two countries. That, in turn, could help the incoming Biden administration better compete in the military-technology competition with China and Russia while also strengthening Israel’s qualitative military edge.

The U.S.-Israel OTWG Provision

Section 1299M of the NDAA authorizes the secretary of defense, in consultation with other federal agencies and Israel, to establish the OTWG.

The new law makes clear that Congress expects the administration to focus on two areas of military cooperation with Israel. These include “systematically” evaluating and sharing “options to develop and acquire intelligence-informed military requirements that directly support warfighting capabilities of both the Department of Defense and the Ministry of Defense of Israel.” Once these opportunities are identified, the OTWG can establish “plans to research, develop, procure, and field weapon systems and military capabilities as quickly and economically as possible to meet common capability requirements.”

Notably, Section 1299M(d) requires the Pentagon, in consultation with the State Department, to provide a report – including both classified and unclassified elements – to each of the congressional armed services, foreign relations, and intelligence committees by March 15 each year.

The statute requires the administration to report on seven distinct questions. For example, the administration must report the combined science and technology (S&T) and research, development, test, and evaluation (RDT&E) programs it is considering, facilitating, recommending, and/or pursuing. The administration must also identify associated obstacles and challenges as well as U.S.-Israel efforts to prevent U.S. intellectual property and military technology from falling into Chinese or Russian hands. Finally, the statute also requires the administration to identify authorizations or appropriations needed to accomplish the objectives.

More broadly, this mandatory reporting requirement will help Congress hold the OTWG accountable for results, and the looming report deadline further demonstrates the need for the Biden administration to stand it up without delay.

Section 1299M represents a significant bipartisan achievement. Senators Gary Peters (D-MI) and Tom Cotton (R-AR) led the effort in the Senate, alongside Representatives Joe Wilson (R-SC) and Chrissy Houlahan (D-PA) in the House of Representatives. Cotton and Peters introduced S.3775, the United States-Israel Military Capability Act of 2020, in May 2020. Wilson and Houlahan introduced the House version, H.R.7148, the following month.

Last summer, demonstrating broad bipartisan support for the provision, the Senate Armed Services Committee voted 27-0 to include a version of the legislation in the NDAA.

OTWG Urgently Needed

Standing up the OTWG without delay would enable the Biden administration to advance several urgent U.S. objectives.

Washington confronts an intense military-technology competition with China and Russia – and the two adversaries are increasingly working together to field military capabilities superior to those of the United States.

According to the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission’s annual report to Congress, Putin declared 2020 the “year of Sino-Russian science and technology cooperation,” with much of the collaboration centering on technologies with military applications.

This is particularly troubling given the hostile authoritarian ideology of both governments, not to mention China’s massive military modernization effort. Beijing understands the central role of R&D in the competition with the United States. According to the Congressional Research Service, China’s share of global R&D rose from 4.9 percent to 26.3 percent from 2000 to 2018, while the U.S. share fell from 39.8 percent to 27.6 percent during the same period.

China and Russia have sought to avoid direct military confrontation with the United States, due in large part to U.S. military superiority. But if America’s military edge continues to erode, Americans can expect both China and Russia to increasingly use their militaries to undertake aggression and undermine U.S. interests.

To help reverse these dangerous trends, Washington must work more systematically with tech-savvy democratic allies such as Israel. As an earlier version of the OTWG legislation noted, Israel is a “global leader in many of the technologies important to Department of Defense modernization efforts.”

To be sure, the United States already conducts an impressive range of military cooperation activities with Israel. Nevertheless, U.S. military capability gaps have continued to emerge that enhanced cooperation with Israel could have prevented.

Until 2019, for example, U.S. Army tanks went without a protective technology that Israel had fielded in 2011. After belatedly acquiring the capability, Washington equipped some of its tanks in Europe with the technology – using Israeli innovation to better protect U.S. soldiers and deter Russian aggression.

But while that sort of cooperation is certainly positive, Washington would have been better off working with Israel from the beginning. U.S. soldiers should not have been forced to operate in dangerous places for more than eight years without available technology that would have made them safer and more combat effective. In the future, given the increasing pace of the military-technology competition, particularly with China, Washington may pay for such delays with the lives of America’s service members.

In short, the OTWG can help ensure America’s warfighters have the advanced capabilities necessary to deter aggression and prevail in military conflict.

By serving as a central point in the American defense bureaucracy to receive and review requests for joint U.S.-Israel military cooperative S&T and RDT&E programs, the OTWG can facilitate quicker U.S. approvals or disapprovals of requests. Too often, long delays in U.S. decisions force Israel to forge ahead alone to counter urgent threats. When that happens, Americans miss out on Israeli innovation and agility, and Israel forfeits the benefits of U.S. innovation and economies of scale.

Section 1299M’s congressional reporting requirement can help ensure that does not happen when it serves U.S. interests to proceed quickly with a combined program. This would improve both the capability of U.S. and Israeli military forces as well as their ability to operate together.

And America has a continued and compelling interest in strengthening Israel’s military capabilities.

Jerusalem continues to serve on the front line against Tehran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and Iran’s terrorist proxies such as Hezbollah. As Tehran seeks to undermine U.S. and Israeli interests in the region, the Israel Defense Forces say they conducted 50 strikes in Syria in 2020, mostly targeting Hezbollah and other Iranian-backed terrorist groups.

Some of these same groups have the blood of hundreds of Americans on their hands. By helping Jerusalem field the most advanced military capabilities possible, Washington can help its ally keep pressure on some of America’s most determined and extreme enemies. This will be especially important now that the UN arms embargo on Iran has expired, potentially enabling Tehran to acquire more sophisticated military capabilities from China and Russia.

In addition, as Arab states acquire additional military capabilities, the Biden administration and Congress will need to closely monitor and preserve Israel’s qualitative military edge. America’s interests and principles, as well as U.S. law, require nothing less.

The OTWG can systematically examine U.S.-Israel shared intelligence-informed military requirements up front and then push to field the necessary capabilities together as quickly as possible. As Senators Peters and Cotton wrote in March 2020, that would help ensure our warfighters “never encounter a more technologically advanced foe.”

For these reasons, the Biden administration should use Section 1299M to stand up the OTWG without delay.

Bradley Bowman is senior director of the Center on Military and Political Power (CMPP) at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD). For more analysis from Brad and CMPP, please subscribe HERE. Follow Brad on Twitter at @Brad_L_Bowman. Follow FDD on Twitter @FDD and @FDD_CMPP. FDD is a Washington, DC-based, nonpartisan research institute focusing on national security and foreign policy.


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