Sourcing Air Supremacy: Determinants of Change in the International Fighter Jet Network
Rounds, Raymond Kenneth
International arms transfers stand at the intersection of security studies and international political economy. They are not simply economic exchanges or transfers in goods, but a crucial part of larger state-to-state relationships. This project investigates fighter aircraft, the single largest segment of the international arms network, to better understand what drives change in these transfer relationships. Most states are unable to indigenously produce fighter jets and are dependent upon one of a very few producers for sourcing their fighter fleets. Because of the large creation costs and path dependent characteristics of these sourcing relationships, changing them comes only at great economic and operational military expense for the importers. Despite these high costs, change does occur; this project explains why. Using a newly coded dataset of international fighter aircraft transfers and descriptive network analysis, I demonstrate, counter to much of the arms trade literature, the fighter jet transfer network has become more centralized following the Cold War, not less. I use this analysis as a foundational platform for the primary research question: under what conditions are states willing to accept the high economic and military costs associated with sourcing change? I propose a typological theory incorporating six independent variables and generating five hypotheses. The proposed causal mechanisms of change address access to new capabilities, political bloc alignment, threat environment, patron security reliance, supply security, and domestic production growth. I test the theory utilizing eight case studies from three different states – Poland, Egypt, and Brazil. In each case I find evidence of the theorized barriers to change caused by the efficiencies and path dependencies of status quo sourcing. Importantly, in the cases of sourcing change the evidence confirms the important causal role of the theorized mechanisms of change. This project offers a novel way to examine the vastly understudied demand-side sourcing decisions in the international arms network and helps to explain and anticipate when these important sourcing changes occur. This project’s framework also holds the potential to be used in future research when applied to other sectors of the arms trade, promising further advances in our understanding of these important international networks.
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