WASHINGTON ― The director of the Pentagon agency in charge of foreign military sales is stepping down after 15 months in the role.
Defense Security Cooperation Agency Director Heidi Grant will be succeeded Nov. 7 by Deputy Director Jed Royal on an acting basis, the agency announced Wednesday. Grant, a longtime Air Force official and was the first civilian to run DSCA since it was created in 1998, is retiring after 32 years in government.
DSCA’s announcement came a day after Grant said America’s strategic competition with Russia and China should weigh on U.S. decisions to sell arms to foreign partners, though she didn’t mention the two countries by name. She called strategic competition “a new lens for us.”
Speaking on a panel at the Association of the U.S. Army’s annual meeting, Grant voiced frustration with a years old U.S. decision not to sell drones to the United Arab Emirates and other Mideast allies, which allowed China to sell them intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance drones instead.
“That’s why a strategic competitor transferred that technology [and] has a significant footprint of training bases for unmanned ISR,” Grant said. “It could have been us, we could be there, we could be training, advising and have that access.”
Proponents of foreign military sales see them as a means to cement U.S. interoperability and long-term relationships with partners, as those countries then rely on the U.S. for training and maintenance. Though officials balance policy and protecting sensitive technologies, Grant said strategic competition has altered that balance ― but noted her view is not necessarily the primary view.
“We have to look at this and say, if we’re not there, our strategic competition is going to fill the void. Is that riskier than transferring high end technologies,” she said.
“I’m not going to get into that, because there’s a lot of great policy people way above me that are making those calls,” she said. “You sometimes question, why is the U.S. going to transfer technology? Well, the other choice is do you want your strategic competitor in there?”
DSCA’s announcement said “Grant had been considering this transition for some time,” noting her move coincides with the implementation of a new organizational model for DSCA. Pentagon Spokesman Mike Howard said in a further statement to Defense News: “Director Grant’s retirement announcement is in no way connected to her AUSA conference panel comments.”
The turnover comes as the Biden administration is navigating cross-currents on arms sale policy, after former President Donald Trump prioritized economic benefits to U.S. defense contractors. Reuters reported the administration briefed Congress on its overhaul of its Conventional Arms Transfer policy to emphasize human rights, but nothing’s been unveiled since.
Earlier this year, the Biden administration was reportedly weighing whether to keep in place a Trump administration decision to loosen decades-old restrictions and no longer observe the international Missile Technology Control Regime’s “strong presumption of denial” standard for exports of the most sophisticated drones. There’s been no official word since.
The Biden administration for several months paused a $23 billon sale of the F-35 joint strike fighter to the UAE. It also paused indefinitely two precision guided munition sales to Saudi Arabia, worth as much as $760 million, as part of a new policy aimed at curtailing violence in Yemen.
Joe Gould is the Congress and industry reporter at Defense News, covering defense budget and policy matters on Capitol Hill as well as industry news.
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