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Defense Focus: Free-market verities

By MARTIN SIEFF, UPI Senior News Analyst   |   Aug. 2, 2007 at 5:59 PM   |   Comments

WASHINGTON, Aug. 2 (UPI) -- Major U.S. high-tech military sales to nations such as Britain, Japan and Israel confirm a trend that was already evident in World War II: Free-market exports to friendly nations can prove decisive in the success of battle- and even war-winning weapons systems.

It is easy to take for granted the continued high level of integration between U.S. companies and the armed forces of allied nations around the world. Just this week Raytheon Systems Ltd. announced it has won a $24 million contract to integrate Paveway IV guided weapons on the Short Take-Off and Vertical Landing version of the F-35 Lightning II, also known as the Joint Strike Fighter.

Raytheon noted in a statement, "The JSF has been bought by Britain and five other European nations that are planning to take delivery of the F-35 aircraft. The integration of the RSL developed Paveway IV onto the F-35B will ensure that (Britain) has an autonomous weapon solution for this platform."

Tobin Touchstone, Raytheon's director of precision systems, noted the gains for Britain's high-tech sector that would be confirmed by the new contract. "This is a significant opportunity for RSL to further develop its aircraft integration portfolio and place RSL's Precision Systems business as one of (Britain's) centers of excellence for this type of activity," he said. "Through technology reach back to the United States RSL, along with its Paveway IV team members, has grown significantly (Britain's) indigenous capability in precision guided weapons."

Raytheon noted that RSL "will also be providing BAE Systems with the required trials hardware."

The transaction is a small but typical and significant example of the continuing process through which the efficiency and rationality of the free market allows governments to buy mature technologies and off-the-shelf weapons systems from allies when they are cheap and effective.

This process has been going on for a long time.

Britain's legendary Supermarine Spitfire fighter through World War II would have been blind and powerless had it relied on British gauges and weapons. Instead, it employed American Browning machine guns and Swiss instrumentation. The British Royal Navy would have been a sitting duck for the Luftwaffe had the Admiralty not had the wisdom in the early years of World War II to adopt Reinhold Becker's Swiss Oerlikon 20 mm guns and Swedish Bofors for anti-aircraft defense on its ships. Captain and later Admiral of the Fleet Lord Louis Mountbatten, the great uncle of Prince Charles, was a key figure in pushing the Oerlikon program through. British industry wasn't capable of producing anything as good.

The trade wasn't all one way, either. With its original, underpowered American-built engines, the North American P-51 Mustang fighter had the performance of a dying dog. Once fitted with Britain's priceless Rolls-Royce Merlin engine, however, it outperformed every piston-engine fighter of the entire war on either side. So good was the P-51 that in superior numbers it even proved able to shoot Germany's fabled Messerschmidt Me262s out of the sky.

Even the Soviet T-34 tank was originally based on a design by the American genius Walter Chrysler. Historically, the Russians have always stood out in buying or copying advanced technological designs wholesale from the West and then coming up with tough, durable and cost-effective modifications on them.

Even the most racist, arrogant and exclusive war-making regime of modern times sometimes applied the principles of outsourcing effectively. The Skoda Works in occupied Czechoslovakia produced 2,500 75mm-armed Hetzers, arguably the most effective tank destroyers in the Wehrmacht. And thousands of Messerschmidt Bf 109s, the main combat fighter of the Luftwaffe throughout World War II, were also outsourced and produced in Czechoslovakia. So good was the traditional Czech engineering excellence on the plane that they remained in production for years after the war, and some of them were even supplied to Israel.

Modern war demands vast numbers of mass-produced weapons and also demands advanced technology. Even the largest nations cannot rely on their own industrial bases and high-tech sectors for everything, or for the best and most cost-efficient alternatives available. To get the best bang for your buck, it still pays to go free market.

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