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International Acquisition - Defense Exportability Features Program


Alternate Definition

The Defense Exportability Features (DEF) program was established in the Fiscal Year 2011 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) as a pilot program. The purpose was to facilitate, through supplemental funding, the assessment, design, and incorporation of technology protection in selected systems early in the defense acquisition life cycle. By doing this, exportable versions of a system or subsystem could be sold earlier in the Production and Development phase, thereby enabling capability to be available to allies and friendly countries more rapidly and at reduced cost. The Fiscal Year 2019 NDAA made DEF a permanent program. The transition of the DEF pilot into a permanent program reflects a commitment to sustained efforts to enhance the exportability of defense products and technologies while safeguarding national security interests and promoting international collaboration in the defense sector.

General Information

Prior to the sale of a weapon system to a foreign partner, the system’s critical capabilities and sensitive technologies must be protected by differential capability modifications and/or program protection measures such as anti-tamper. In the past these modifications were usually paid for by the first foreign purchaser during the production phase. The DEF program incentivizes designing exportability provisions during the development phase for systems with export potential. Depending on factors such as DOD program protection requirements, Technology Security Foreign Disclosure (TSFD), and Export Control policy guidance, exportability features should be designed and developed as a basis for eventual production and logistics support of one or more exportable versions of a system.

The DEF program reduces the cost of incorporating exportability provisions, strengthens alliances by making it easier for the U.S. to work with partners on military projects, and increases U.S. competitiveness in the global arms market. If not addressed early in the Defense Acquisition System life cycle, exportability has to be addressed (at an increased cost) prior to the release of materiel to foreign partners. 

The DEF Program is managed by the OUSD(A&S) Director of International Cooperation. On an annual basis, DOD Components nominate systems to participate in the program, which are reviewed and selected by the Director of International Cooperation. Programs can apply for funding to support an industry cost-sharing contract to conduct feasibility or design studies. These studies assess:

  • Potential international market size
  • Technical feasibility of exporting the system
  • Non-recurring engineering costs associated with exportability features
  • Return on investment of DEF implementation in one or more future export variant(s)

The DEF program encourages selected DOD acquisition programs to assess, design, and incorporate defense exportability features in their systems. The DEF program's primary objectives are to: 

  • Demonstrate that costs can be reduced, and U.S. products can be made available for foreign sales sooner through the incorporation of DEF in initial designs, and 
  • Garner lessons learned across DOD program experiences to improve the return on investment for future programs. 

These objectives support DOD's larger goals of enabling foreign sales in order to enhance coalition interoperability, decrease costs to DOD and international partners through economies of scale, and improve international competitiveness of U.S. defense systems.