Lockheed CEO: To lead in space, U.S. needs globally competitive industry

CEO Marillyn Hewson said she is encouraged by the National Space Council's focus on national security and the role of the private sector.

WASHINGTON — The U.S. aerospace industry needs to be able to export products around the world and forge international alliances in order to be competitive in space, said Marillyn Hewson, chairman, president and CEO of Lockheed Martin Corporation.

This has been a central message of the National Space Council, Hewson said March 5 at Lockheed Martin’s annual media day in Arlington, Va.

Hewson has participated in both NSC meetings that have been held thus far, and is a member of the council’s “user advisory group.”

Speaking about the council’s attitude toward the private sector, said Hewson: “They look at things that may be barriers or constraints to how we can continue to invest in innovation and how we can export our products so we can be globally competitive.” She said U.S. industry has to be a global player so “America can continue to be a leader in space.” A competitive aerospace industry, she said, is part of the council’s broader national security agenda to make sure American companies and government agencies have unfettered access to space as other nations move to challenge the United States.

Hewson declined to comment specifically on President Trump’s recent announcement that the United States will impose tariffs on imported aluminum and steel, setting off a trade war that could undermine the U.S. aerospace sector.

“We haven’t seen the details on the tariffs,” said Hewson. “Until we do, there’s not much I can say.”

She did call the tariffs issue an “important subject,” however. “A focus on competition and fair trade is important, we have to look at how we can be competitive around the world, and it’s important that we focus on our strategic partners and allies.”

The Aerospace Industries Association already has cautioned that metal tariffs could have devastating consequences for this sector of the U.S. economy that accounts for a large chunk of American exports.

AIA President and CEO Eric Fanning said in a statement that tariffs would “impact companies big and small in the aerospace and defense world.” He noted that aerospace and defense sectors generate the largest net surplus in the manufacturing sector — over $86 billion a year. Companies that manufacture airplanes, satellites and other high-tech hardware make heavy use of steel and aluminum and would see their manufacturing costs increase. Fanning told CNBC that AIA’s 340 member companies are heavy exporters and worry about retaliation He noted that domestic steel meets 70 percent of domestic demand and imports fill the remaining 30 percent. Fanning also said the military uses about 3 percent of all steel and 3 percent of all aluminum produced domestically so national security is not affected by imports.

Hewson said she was encouraged when last June, the administration announced the re-launch of the National Space Council, “sending a strong signal that it is committed to advancing and renewing American leadership in space.”

She has spoken with Vice President Mike Pence, the Council’s chairman, about the “importance of space to our national security, our economic growth, and to human progress.”