Developing and strengthening the relationships between U.S. partners and allies is a top priority for Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III. For a long time, Italy has been one of the nations the U.S. military depends on for both defense relations and military supplies and equipment, the DOD's deputy director of international and strategic engagement for foreign investment review said.
"The United States has consistently and always relied upon our allies and partners for strategic and critical materials that cannot be domestically produced, even in war time," Irmie "Ike" Blanton said during an online discussion today at the Atlantic Council. "Italy has provided those to us in spades throughout this relationship."
Italy is an important supplier to the DOD of things like weapon systems, small arms, chemicals and aircraft components, said Blanton.
"Our supply chains with Italy are very closely connected and interlinked and intertwined, as most modern supply chains are," Blanton said.
For example, he said, Italy is a critical supplier of parts for and is involved in the development of both the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter and the Air Force's MH-139A Grey Wolf helicopter.
"Both of those programs in particular play a very important role in advancing the strength of the United States, as well as that of our allies, protecting and transporting our warfighters for these missions that are important to our national security interests," Blanton said.
An Italian defense contractor was also chosen to build a key new weapons system for the U.S. Navy — the Constellation-class frigate. According to the Navy, the new class of frigate includes, among other things, an Enterprise Air Surveillance Radar, Baseline Ten AEGIS Combat System, and an Mk 41 Vertical Launch System. That new ship will be built at a shipyard in Wisconsin.
Construction of the ship in Wisconsin enhances the significance of that shipyard, Blanton said, but it also strengthens the existing relationship between the U.S. and Italian industrial bases.
Italy is one of nine nations — along with Australia, Canada, Finland, Norway, Netherlands, Spain, Sweden and the United Kingdom — to maintain the security of supply arrangements, or SOSAs, with the United States.
These non-binding arrangements allow participants, when needed, to request priority access to critical supplies, even when others have orders in ahead of them. Four of those participating nations, including Italy, also include in their SOSA a code of conduct to govern SOSA implementation for priority assistance.
"Italy is an exemplar nation when it comes to both the arrangement itself, but also the code of conduct that they have with their defense industrial base partners within Italy," Blanton said, adding that the Italian SOSA includes 60 defense industrial partners who have signed on to the related code of conduct.
As an example of how the SOSA provides value to partners and enhances relations between participating nations, Blanton cited an example from 2008 where Italy needed a specific type of night-vision equipment and was unable to find it.
"They reached out to the United States to really start the SOSA process ... it was one of the first uses of the SOSA," he said. "The parts were very scarce at that time, there [were] a lot of orders and orders were being backed up. But because of ... the SOSA relationship and our foundational relationship with Italy, the DOD granted the Italian request, and they were able to obtain the parts in a ... relatively fast and efficient manner."
He said it might have taken many more months for the Italians to get those parts had the SOSA not been in place.
"I want to stress again the importance of these types of agreements," he said. "Not only do they signal the depth and importance of a relationship with a country and their defense industrial base, but they also serve an actual purpose in that they allow the industrial base partners to make use of the niche capabilities of each other's industrial bases," Blanton said.