August 31, 2021 | Insight

Bipartisan Effort to Deepen Defense Cooperation with Israel Advances

August 31, 2021 Insight

Bipartisan Effort to Deepen Defense Cooperation with Israel Advances

To strengthen bilateral cooperation on military research and development (R&D), Reps. Joe Wilson (R-SC) and Stephanie Murphy (D-FL) announced today their introduction of an amendment (#1197) to the National Defense Authorization Act to require, with the concurrence of Jerusalem, the establishment of a U.S.-Israel Operations-Technology Working Group. The working group would help the United States better compete in the military-technology competition with China and Russia while strengthening Israel’s qualitative military edge over any regional adversary.

The success or failure of Americans and our Israeli allies on future battlefields will depend significantly on whether they wield the most advanced military systems and weapons available. Washington, however, confronts great power adversaries in China and Russia, which are increasingly fielding capabilities that are comparable or even superior in some cases to those of the United States. Meanwhile, the Islamic Republic of Iran and its terrorist proxies are sprinting to field drone, missile, and other capabilities that endanger Americans and Israelis in the Middle East.

To be sure, the United States and Israel already enjoy a deep and broad defense partnership. Despite this fact, dangerous military capability gaps continue to emerge that a more systematic and proactive cooperative R&D program could have prevented.

Consider, for example, that it took the Pentagon until 2019 to acquire for U.S. tanks Israeli-made active protection systems that had been operational there since 2011. Consequently, U.S. soldiers deployed for years in tanks and armored vehicles lacking the cutting-edge protection Washington could have provided against missiles and rockets, subjecting those troops to unnecessary risk.

Given the pace of the U.S. military technology competition with China, Americans may pay a higher cost for such delays in the future. A better R&D relationship with Israel would help avoid delays and enable the United States to benefit more fully from Israeli military innovation and agility.

Similarly, when Israel waits for extended periods for U.S. government agencies to approve combined R&D programs, the urgency of the threats Jerusalem confronts often forces it to forge ahead on its own. When that happens, Israel misses out on American innovations and economies of scale, principally lower unit costs based on larger purchases. That deprives Israel of an opportunity to stretch its finite defense budget further as threats continue to grow. The missed opportunity also prevents the two militaries from fielding the same capabilities simultaneously, which would facilitate valuable combined training and operations.

Rather than simply bemoaning these challenges, Democrats and Republicans have worked since early 2020 to establish the working group. Sens. Gary Peters (D-MI) and Tom Cotton (R-AR) in May 2020 introduced S. 3775, legislation that would mandate the working group. Reps. Joe Wilson (R-SC) and Chrissy Houlahan (D-PA) introduced an identical House version, H.R. 7148, the following month.

Then, in a unanimous roll call vote, the Senate Armed Services Committee voted 27-0 last summer to mandate the establishment of the working group. Following conference negotiations, that mandate was changed to an authorization in Section 1299M of the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2021, which is now law.

During its markup of the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2022 last month, the Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC), based in part on the efforts of Sens. Peters, Cotton, and Jacky Rosen (D-NV), voted to amend Section 1299M to change the authorization to a mandate. That represents the second time in two years that SASC has voted to require the administration to establish the OTWG.

The Wilson-Murphy amendment reflects the language passed last month by SASC. The two representatives hope the House Armed Services Committee will adopt their amendment tomorrow when the committee considers the NDAA. Regardless, Wilson and Murphy may get another chance when the NDAA goes to the full House of Representatives for consideration later this year.

Meanwhile, Israel and the Biden administration may be moving ahead with establishing the working group. The government of Israel supports the establishment of the working group, and the Pentagon has been working with its counterparts in Israel to design and potentially establish the working group.

That progress by the two governments, however, should not dissuade Congress from moving ahead with efforts to mandate the creation of the working group. Despite the best of intentions among the likely participants of the working group, assertive congressional oversight and a statutory reporting requirement to Congress will help hold the working group accountable for results.

In March 2020, Sens. Cotton and Peters wrote that the working group would help ensure our warfighters “never encounter a more technologically advanced foe.”

They are exactly right. Given the severe and growing threats that the U.S. and Israel confront, the time for delay is over. It is time to finally establish the U.S.-Israel Operations-Technology Working Group.

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.

Issues:

Israel Military and Political Power U.S. Defense Policy and Strategy