Reagan Forum preview; The Air Force wants your ideas; More foreign arms sales eyed...

As the Pentagon clamps down on conference appearances by senior defense officials, the annual Reagan National Defense Forum in Simi Valley is one of the few places where you’ll still find more than a handful in one place. The event is also heavily attended by top CEOs; Capital Alpha Partners’ Byron Callan calls it the Davos of Defense.

This year’s forum will focus on, you guessed it, great power competition, the prime focus of the Pentagon’s National Defense Strategy. But with so many executives in attendance, several sessions are expected to focus on the defense industrial base, technology, competition with Russia and China and the counterterrorism fight in the Middle East. Oh, and I’m moderating a panel about Washington’s brewing budget fight. (I’m pleased to note that it will take place under a Boeing 707 used as Air Force One by several presidents.)

Defense Secretary Jim Mattis is giving the event’s two big keynotes. One member of the Joint Chiefs is slated to attend: Gen. Robert Neller, the Marine Corps commandant. The Air Force has four senior officials on the attendee list; the Navy, none. (Peter Navarro, one of President Trump’s top trade advisors, pulled out to accompany Trump to the G20 summit in Argentina.)

Here’s the breakdown of senior attendees:

  • Pentagon officials: 11
  • State Department: 1
  • Congressmen: 24
  • Senators: 6
  • Foreign defense ministers: 4
  • Ambassadors: 4
  • Generals: 3
  • Top Industry Executives: About two dozen

The Reagan Forum is an invite-only event, but the livestream of each panel will be here.


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About That Delayed Air Force Tanker

There’s still no delivery date for the Air Force’s KC-46 tanker. The plane still has “a couple major deficiencies,” Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson said Nov. 15 at the Defense One Summit. She mentioned a problem with the plane’s remote vision system, cameras that allow the refueling boom operator to see other aircraft arriving to take on fuel. The is also a problem with the tanker’s boom not disconnecting if bent by the plane it’s refueling.

Have an Idea? The Air Force Could Give Cash for It

“We want to get small innovative companies able to do work with the United States Air Force and we’re willing to change the way we do business in order to do that,” Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson told listeners at the Defense One Summit.

So on March 6 and 7, the Air Force will hold what they are calling “Pitch Day.” What are leaders looking for? Software, intelligence, special operations and just some plain old “good ideas.”

“Give us a five-page … white paper,” Wilson said. “If we like your idea, we’ll invite you to Pitch Day.” If Air Force leaders like your in-person pitch, you can walk out with a contact in hand and a downpayment.

Wilson said procurement laws require the Air Force spend $660 million per year on small business contracts. “A lot of the small businesses we deal with aren’t all that small,” she said. “We think there are innovative small businesses out there that we want to work even more closely with.” A few weeks ago the Air Force did an experiment, award 50 contracts to small businesses in 50 hours. They ended up awarding 104 contracts.

They plan to announce more details on LinkedIn and other websites. We’ll let you know what we hear.

Lots of New Foreign Arms Deals Approved; More Expected

This week, the U.S. has approved a $1 billion deal for 10 Apache attack helicopters for Egypt, plus a $201 million deal for 46,000 Abrams tank rounds for Cairo.  Then there’s a $215 million deal for National Advanced Surface to Air Missile System for Qatar. Last week, there was a $561 million deal for SM-3 missile interceptors for Japan and a $63 million deal for AMRAAM missiles for Tokyo. There as also $320.5 million deal with NATO for precision-guided munition kits.

The State Department says it authorized $192.3 billion in arms exports in fiscal 2018, which it says it’s looking to top in 2019. “My goal and the president’s goals and the secretary’s goal is to always continually improve,” Andrea Thompson, under secretary of state for arms control

and international security, said on a Nov. 15 press call. “$192 billion is a significant dollar amount, but again we’ve got efficiencies in place and we’ve got the whole team on board to do better for next year.”

Making Moves

The White House said on Nov. 16 that President Trump intends to nominate Joan O’Hara to be executive secretary of the National Security Council. She has served as principal deputy executive secretary and deputy chief of staff of the National Security Council since July 2018.

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