A week after Donald Trump became president-elect, everyone’s still guessing what he means for defense.
“Frankly, anyone that tells you they have the answer to that question is lying,” Thomas Spoehr, a retired Army lieutenant general who runs the Heritage Foundation’s Center for National Defense, said this week.
Aside from an apparent consensus that it’s “good” — in the sense that the Trump administration wants to build up the military, and therefore financial gains for defense firms — the president-elect has made no detailed comments on the subject and has yet to pick a Pentagon team.
But clues exist. Trump has relied on Heritage for defense advice, so put a bit more stock in what Spoehr and its other experts have to say. This week, the conservative think tank released its third annual “Index of U.S. Military Strength,” a 391-page analysis of the state of American armed forces and the threats they face.
At a small breakfast Wednesday morning, its authors discussed their findings. From a business perspective, a few comments stood out.
Navy leaders say they needs 308 ships to meet the minimal demands of the combatant commanders, but have just 272 right now. (Trump has called for 350 ships.) “Historically, they get about $15 or $16 billion a year for shipbuilding,” said Heritage’s Dakota Wood, who edited the report. “To reach 308, they would need $20 billion to $21 billion.”
Wood also talked about the military’s efforts in the fields of robotics and unmanned systems. “They’re doing testing and experimentation,” Wood noted. “I’ve got my own quibbles on how they’re doing it, but the point is that they’re actually doing that.”
And Spoehr, the retired Army general, said the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter is “showing some great promise.”
Another thought: If Trump wants to swiftly start sending the military more weapons, he’ll have to do it with arms that are already in production, one defense expert tells me. That could include ramping up buys of F-35s; F/A-18 Super Hornets; Navy destroyers — you get the drift. That way he could show results quickly without timely development projects.
How to pay for it? Here’s one way to persuade Congress to boost defense spending: tie it to Trump’s $1 trillion infrastructure plan, which might get money rolling to home districts, says Mackenzie Eaglen with the American Enterprise Institute says. Or, if fiscal hawks decline to repeal the Budget Control Act, the new administration could rely on the war budget, which is not subject to spending caps. While the Obama administration has refused to overtly use war funding to buy unrelated new equipment, the next gang might not.
And about that war budget? Once upon a time, the extra money approved to pay for unexpected wars was dubbed the “emergency supplemental.” The Obama administration renamed it the “Overseas Contingency Operations.” If Trump decides to use the account to rebuild the military, maybe he calls it the “Make Defense Great Again” budget. Send me your thoughts on OCO/MDGA/whatever.
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From Defense One
Decision Time: Half of US F-15s Need Overhauls — Or Retirement // Marcus Weisgerber
In a backseat ride over New Hampshire, the Eagle shows why it's still lethal, yet increasingly expensive.
A Team of Drones Pulls Off a (Staged) Search-and-Rescue Mission // Patrick Tucker
Lockheed Martin-Sikorsky merger leads to unique demonstration involving drones large and small.
White House: $11.6B More Needed for ISIS Fight, Afghanistan // Marcus Weisgerber
The request brings the expected 2017 price tag for both wars to $85.3 billion.
I Flew In An F-15 Eagle
It was awesome…and terrifying, but mostly awesome. The backseat ride came courtesy of the Massachusetts Air National Guard’s 104th Fighter Wing, nicknamed the “Barnestormers” because they fly from Barnes Air National Guard Base in Westfield, Massachusetts. I was surprised by all the activity at a National Guard fighter base — jets were taking off and landing all day — and by the depth of everyone’s knowledge about defense happenings in Washington. It was far more than talking points about readiness and the impact of sequestration.
After I climbed into an F-15D behind Maj. Jay “Fat” Talbert, we took off midday and flew north. I went to college in New Hampshire and worked at a newspaper there after graduating, so the cockpit’s giant glass canopy afforded a new perspective on my old stomping grounds, from 16,000 feet with a near-360-degree view.
Talbert flew us to Mount Washington, where radio towers poked through the low clouds over the peak, and a swath of restricted airspace allows Air Force pilots to fly high-performance maneuvers without worrying about commercial or civil aircraft.
The G-forces on the body are extreme. I’m still in awe that the men and women that fly fighter jets are able to concentrate on other duties with this type of stress on the body. As Talbert executed rolls, high-speed turns, and dogfighting maneuvers, I was trying to hold down my lunch. I could see his head darting around up front. Mine was pinned to the back of the ejection seat.
Boeing to Make Defense Cuts
On a more serious note, Boeing announced it would cut 500 jobs across its defense and space business over the next four years. It will close facilities in El Paso, Texas; and Newington, Virginia; and shrink its business in Huntington Beach, California. “By the end of 2020 Boeing will reduce facilities space by approximately 4.5 million square feet,” the company said in a statement. It will also move some employees to other sites. Boeing said Los Angeles County would gain about 1,600 jobs; St. Louis, 500; and Huntsville, Alabama, about 400.
Brits Eye Reaper Drones
The U.S. State Department approved the sale of 26 MQ-9 Reaper drones to the U.K. Last year then-British Prime Minister David Cameron announced the Royal Air Force would replace its 10 Reapers with new ones, which it calls “Protector.” The deal, approved by State late Wednesday, calls for 16 MQ-9s with an option for 10 additional aircraft. The drones are built by General Atomics.
Some Merger and Acquisition News
A month ago we told you DigitalGlobe, the satellite imaging company, was acquiring Radiant, a big data company that does work for the intelligence community. The $140 million deal closed on Wednesday.
Also, three niche defense and intel companies — EOIR, Intelligent Software Solutions and PROTEUS Technologies — have joined to form Polaris Alpha. Washington-based private equity firm Arlington capital Partners announced the the new firm as “a leading provider of mission-critical technology, software, and solutions to premier customers in the defense and intelligence communities.”
No GBB on Thanksgiving
We’ll be taking the day off to be with our families, and thinking of the deployed troops who cannot.