Washington–Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and Senator Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) today introduced the Secure F-35 Exports Act of 2020, to reassert Congressional oversight over the sale of sophisticated and mission-critical American military systems. The new legislation comes against the backdrop of the Trump administration’s efforts to rush the sale of the United States’ most advanced fighter aircraft to the United Arab Emirates (UAE).
“Congress has an obligation to make sure that the most sophisticated U.S. weaponry be limited to our use and that of our most trusted allies,” said Senator Feinstein. “That’s why this legislation places significant limits on this or any future administration’s ability to sell the F-35 aircraft to the Middle East, where it could threaten our interests and Israel’s military edge in the region. I’m proud to join Senator Menendez in introducing a bill to solidify Congress’ role overseeing arms sales.”
“Ensuring that the United States and its crucial partner in the Middle East, Israel, maintain their critical qualitative military advantages over all potential adversaries is enshrined in law and must be one of the highest priorities of any President and Congress; this rush to close an F-35 deal by President Trump before the end of his term could well undermine that objective,” said Ranking Member Menendez. “This legislation would require that a fair, comprehensive, and soberly deliberative consideration of any such sale takes place, shorn of extraneous political or other interests.”
The administration’s headlong effort threatens to short-circuit a comprehensive interagency process by national security professionals at both the State Department and the Department of Defense, as well as undermine Congressional consultation and review processes. The result of a hasty sale of F-35s to a country in a volatile region with multiple ongoing conflicts could be severe and cause irreparable damage to critical technology and military advantages of both the United States and Israel.
The Secure F-35 Exports Act of 2020 ensures that any such sale will not proceed to delivery of aircraft unless and until the President can make detailed certifications to Congress that the United States’ aircraft technology and Israel’s security are fully protected.
A copy of the Secure F-35 Exports Act of 2020 may be found here.
The legislation’s key provisions include:
- Requires that the President assess and report to Congress, before any provision of F-35 aircraft to countries that are not NATO members or Israel, Australia, Japan, South Korea or New Zealand:
- a full assessment of the risks presented by such sale, export, or transfer to the security of the United States, including to the critical military and technological military advantage such aircraft provide to the United States Armed Forces; and
- a certification that such sale, export, or transfer does not present a significant danger of compromising the critical military and technological military advantage such aircraft provide to the United States Armed Forces.
- Requires a certification by the President before the provision of F-35 aircraft to a Middle Eastern country other than Israel that:
- such sale will not compromise or undermine Israel’s qualitative military edge (QME);
- strong assurances have been made that these aircraft will not be used in activities or operations inimical to the security of Israel, or to the foreign policy and national security interests of the United States;
- sufficient technology security measures will be required to prevent espionage against these aircraft; and
- if these assurances are violated, the U.S. will have the means to counter those violations.
- Requires a certification by the President before delivery that:
- the provision of F-35 aircraft will not undermine Israel’s QME;
- the U.S. has instituted technology security measures;
- such country has not transferred any US-origin arms to terrorists or adversaries of Israel or the United States;
- such country has not provided weapons from any source directly or indirectly to armed militias fighting against partners and allies of the U.S.;
- such country has not conducted surveillance on any U.S. citizen or committing on enabling human rights violations; and
- such country has not acquired foreign technology to compromise the technology of such aircraft.
- Requires, for 10 years subsequent to delivery of F-35 aircraft, annual certifications that:
- the U.S. continues to institute technology security measures;
- the recipient country has not engaged in military, paramilitary, or intelligence operations inimical to the security of Israel or to the foreign policy and national security interests of the United States within the year prior to the certification; and
- the recipient country has not committed or enabled human rights violations.
- Requires the President to assess whether Israel is in danger of suffering a quantitative military disadvantage from the buildup of armed forces by other countries in the Middle East.