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Obama Administration Renews Export Control Reform Push

Apr. 15, 2010 - 03:45AM   |  
By JOHN T. BENNETT   |   Comments
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U.S. Deputy Defense Secretary William Lynn renewed the Obama administration's push to streamline and loosen U.S. controls on defense exports April 15, saying the Cold War-era rules too often harm American allies and defense firms.

On most advanced U.S. military systems, American firms "are unable to share technologies with allies we are fighting alongside" in Iraq and Afghanistan, Lynn said at an Aerospace Industries Association-sponsored luncheon April 15 on Capitol Hill.

He said new laws and processes should erect "high walls" around "unique systems" that give the U.S. military major combat advantages, but free firms to sell other systems to American allies.

Lynn is just the latest senior U.S. official to echo President Barack Obama, who vowed in his Jan. 27 State of the Union address to double U.S. exports and "reform export controls consistent with national security." Earlier that day, Lynn's boss, Defense Secretary Robert Gates, met with congressional leaders to discuss reforms.

And Chief Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell earlier this year said, "This department has historically been an impediment, an obstacle to meaningful change. What's different now is that [Gates] is fully supportive of dramatic change."

Lynn said Gates will have more to say "at the end of this month" on export control reform.

Further, amid talk that annual U.S. defense budgets soon will shrink due to a number of external forces, Lynn said Pentagon brass feel they need real growth for years to come.

Without bigger overall yearly budgets, Lynn warned Pentagon officials would be forced to make cuts or forgo planned spending within the DoD budget.

"Parts of the [defense budget] are growing faster than the rate of inflation," including health care, pay and benefits, and many major weapon programs, he said.

The deputy secretary also said:

Pentagon and Navy officials will soon decide whether to enter into an additional, and previously unplanned, multiyear contract with Boeing for new F/A-18E/F Super Hornet fighters and EA-18G Growler electronic warfare aircraft.

DoD brass want dialogue with industry to become richer and more open.

Officials "are moving more toward fixed-price contracts," meaning the Pentagon will seek to use them more often - but only "when appropriate."

"Conflict is trending asymmetric," with U.S. foes big and small looking more often for "points of vulnerability." This has led U.S. foes toward things like improvised explosive devices, "anti-access capabilities," anti-satellite weapons and cyber attacks.

Increasingly, Pentagon officials will seek to buy platforms that provide "maximum versatility across the widest ... spectrum of conflict."

Industrial Base Concerns

Before Lynn took to the podium, Jim Albaugh, Boeing's executive vice president for commercial aircraft - and formerly head of its defense systems business - panned the Pentagon on several fronts.

Albaught said he is concerned that the current Pentagon long-term budget contains few new programs of the kind that are needed to retain engineers and designers.

Those kinds of workers need more work since Gates killed or scaled back almost 50 major U.S. defense programs last year, he said. And without new complex programs to work on, "the best and brightest" new engineering and design talent will not seek employment within the U.S. defense industrial base, Albaugh warned.

Albaugh said it seems the Pentagon has made many "individual decisions" when killing or altering major defense programs without seeing the bigger picture of total ramifications to the industrial base.

Without a healthy defense industry, Albaugh said, "how can you gear up in times of need?" He added an atrophied defense industrial base will make it tougher for the Pentagon to have true competitions for major contracts, which could lead to higher price tags for new platforms.

Asked later about Albaugh's concerns, Lynn said Pentagon brass take industrial base health seriously, adding some of the canceled or revamped programs have been replaced by new efforts already or soon to be under way.

Lynn said DoD is "trying to structure ... programs to get competition," but the department is not interested in "trying to shape the industrial base."

He said Pentagon brass "don't want a planned community approach to the defense industrial base."

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