Speaker: Rounds, R. (US Air Force)
Date: 2 October 2019
SMA hosted speaker session presented by Lt Col Ray Rounds (US Air Force) as a part of its SMA General Speaker Series. During his presentation, Lt Col Rounds argued that international arms transfers are not just economic exchanges or transfers of goods, but also crucial parts of larger state-to-state relationships. To begin, he presented his primary research question: Under what conditions are states willing to accept the inefficiencies and costs associated with sourcing change? He chose to focus on fighter aircraft—the largest segment of the international arms network—in order to better understand what drives change in these transfer relationships. Lt Col Rounds explained that most states are unable to produce fighter jets themselves and are consequently dependent upon one of very few producers to obtain their fighter fleets. Due to the large cost of creation and path-dependent characteristics of these sourcing relationships, altering them only results in great economic and operational military expenses for importers. However, despite these high costs, change does occasionally occur. Lt Col Rounds also argued that, contrary to much of the existing arms trade literature, the fighter jet transfer network has become more centralized since the Cold War, not less. Moreover, there has been very limited sourcing change, and few producers remain. He then presented a newly coded dataset of international fighter aircraft transfers and descriptive network analysis in support of his argument. He also presented the typological theory that he utilized—Fighter Sourcing Change (FSC) theory, which he tested using eight case studies from three different states—Poland, Egypt, and Brazil—each of which he discussed in detail. The dependent variable he used while applying the FSC theory was sourcing change at two levels: state and political bloc. He also used a willingness and opportunity framework, which indicates that these two entities in combination often lead to change. To conclude, Lt Col Rounds stated that 1) the FSC theory and associated hypotheses held up well, 2) sourcing change is driven largely by politico-security factors and occasionally tactical capabilities, and 3) change mechanisms were present in all but one case of change. He also explained the implications of his research with respect to great power competition and the US’s use of arms for either influence or coercion.