WASHINGTON — A Trump administration official wants to create a “safe space” for international defense-industrial base cooperation.

As China’s military modernization strategy bridges its civil-military divide and the U.S. National Defense Strategy emphasizes the American industrial base, the Pentagon must protect and encourage America’s international partnerships, according to Eric Chewning, the Pentagon’s deputy assistant secretary of defense for industrial policy.

“As China articulates a civil-military fusion doctrine where they are intentionally blurring the lines between their developments on the military side and the commercial side, we need to work with our allies to create a safe space where we can work collaboratively to do that,” Chewning said Wednesday at the Defense News Conference.

Chewning’s comments came as the Trump administration’s defense-industrial base review has been delayed for months, but after the administration has streamlined conventional arms and drone export policies, in part to boost the American defense sector.

The Pentagon’s acquisitions and sustainment arm maintains bilateral conversations with 35 nations on industrial collaboration, providing a forum to work together in the context of the U.S. strategy’s emphasis on great power competition with Russia and China.

The Pentagon could scale up a handful of pilot programs tied to the 2017 expansion of the national technology and industrial base to include the U.K. and Australia, Chewning said.

But the challenge is to create other avenues for countries outside that core group, like Israel. “We have different constructs that apply to different allies, and we’re trying to figure out what the right tools is,” Chewning added.

Sharing information and technology is easier said than done. As the U.S. pursues space and cyber capabilities, classification levels are trending higher, potentially hindering the effort, the Danish Embassy’s minister-counselor for defense, Peter Michael Nielsen, told conference attendees.

“We do need to see a need to continue sharing technology and information,” Nielsen said. “We also have problems in defense, to get the meetings, to get the information.”

The Trump administration’s “America First” emphasis is creating questions and concerns among allies, in that it also emphasizes “Buy America” provisions that penalize them, panelists said.

“We have a strong concern. We are exempted, and if that changed it would be huge," Nielsen said.

Elbit Systems of America CEO Raanan Horowitz said the U.S. has less experience with international defense-industrial base cooperation than it does working with allied militaries.

“It is time to address this and create a more extensive and inclusive industrial base policy,” Horowitz said. “There is a lot of discussion of the ‘America First’ issue, but I don’t think ‘America First’ means ‘America alone.’ ”

Still, Horowitz acknowledged potential problems, pointing to U.S.-Turkey cooperation on the F-35 — in limbo amid a diplomatic row over Ankara’s treatment of an American pastor and its plans to buy the Russian S-400 missile defense system.

But, Horowitz said, there are secure technologies to protect sensitive supply chains, like Blockchain: “Those are things that are available.”

Joe Gould was the senior Pentagon reporter for Defense News, covering the intersection of national security policy, politics and the defense industry. He had previously served as Congress reporter.

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