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U.S. officials on a mission to sell American products. It has been awkward

SN Military.Space Sandra Erwin

Trump administration officials — including representatives from Defense, State, Commerce and NASA, as well as governors from several U.S. states — are at the Farnborough Airshow in the United Kingdom this week on a mission to sell American aerospace and weapons. This is routine during major international gatherings like this one. But this time they are having to walk a delicate line as they are trying to persuade longtime allies to buy American products and invest in the United States while the president continues to wage a trade war, repeatedly slams NATO allies for not spending enough on defense, bashes the U.K. prime minister for being soft on Brexit, calls the European Union a “foe” and sides with Europe’s enemy Vladimir Putin.

How can this not possibly hurt U.S. trade?

It’s complicated. Tina Kaidanow, acting assistant secretary of State who runs the Bureau of Political Military Affairs, cautioned to not overreact.

During a telephone conference with reporters at Farnborough, she played down the impact of the president’s rhetoric. When asked how allies were reacting to tariffs and other actions coming out of the White House, Kaidanow said: “We don’t get into public conversations of what we discuss with our individual partners and allies.” She then suggested that weapons deals are the product of long-nurtured ties not likely to be affected by the 24-hour news cycle. “It’s an increasingly challenging world, and we are looking to develop these strategic relationships in a way that makes sense for us and for our partners, not just for a year or six months.”

“These are long-term relationships. That doesn’t really change.”
Tina Kaidanow, U.S. acting assistant secretary of State

U.S. government officials at Farnborough are there to “reassure our companies that we have their back … but also to reassure our partners that there is a strong purpose in acquiring these systems. It’s to make us more interoperable, to give us a strong set of relationships that we can continue to nurture over time.” Kaidanow insisted: “It’s a long-term process. This is not a month-long set of issues. This is something we want to engage in for the long term.”

ARMS SALES On the defense side, the decisions that countries make are “not really dictated so much by short-term trade considerations one way or the other,” she said. “What I think they are dictated by largely is by a set of concerns that are driven by security, strategic partnerships. … These are the kinds of thoughtful decisions we want countries to make. We don’t want them to be acting on the concerns of the moment per se.”

BOTTOM LINE It is too early to predict whether Trump’s unfriendly rhetoric will have long-lasting chilling effects. Kaidanow: “The conversations we’ve had with partners have been very straightforward, even with the Europeans. I think for the most part, it’s been able to transcend some of those other back-and-forth issues.”

U.S. OBJECTIVES are to bolster U.S. industry and preserve American jobs, she said. “We’ve got the entire weight of the U.S. government behind these efforts, and that’s going to continue to be the case.”

Despite growing angst about Trump’s hostility toward allies, there is still an interest in acquiring U.S. weapons systems. The potential fallout may be more damaging on the commercial side, where the market is more competitive and analysts fear that retaliation over U.S. tariffs could put a damper on U.S. aviation and space exports.

New numbers unveiled at Farnborough by AeroDynamic Advisory and Teal Group put the 2017 global aerospace market at $838 billion. The United States has enjoyed an “extremely strong trade position reflecting export market dominance in most key segments.”

The Aerospace Industries Association reported that the U.S. aerospace sector generated $143 billion in exports and a positive trade balance of $86 billion in 2017. AIA President and CEO Eric Fanning has warned that a protracted trade war could hurt aerospace sales, U.S. jobs and the nation’s economy as countries affected by these tariffs fire back.


In a joint press conference at the Farnborough Airshow, U.S. Undersecretary of the Air Force Matt Donovan (left) and Assistant secretary of the Air Force for acquisitions Will Roper said they were enthused about having a chance to meet with their foreign counterparts and U.K.-based suppliers.

“We’re here to talk to our allies about the U.S. national defense strategy,” said Donovan. He pointed out that one of the pillars of the strategy is to strengthen alliances. “To paraphrase Secretary Mattis, ‘nations who have allies thrive and those that do not whither.’”

Donovan said he personally did not hear any blowback from allies on trade issues or political tensions surrounding President Trump’s criticism of NATO.

TEAMING WITH U.K. Roper said he planned visits this week to the U.K. Ministry of Defence “rapid capabilities office” and several defense and space companies. “We really do get a lot from working with people who have a different point of view, that have different strings in their industry base,” he said.

The British RCO, he said, is a “mirror of our own. We’re looking to work together. .. We don’t just fight alongside with allies but build things with them.”

With the U.K. making a big push to invest in space technology, British companies are seeking to work with the U.S., said Roper. “I’m extremely excited to hear about the U.K. upcoming launch capabilities.”

Right now, he said, “I’m seeing amazing innovations from companies that are new blood in space, that have new ideas, that are pushing prices down, which always makes an acquisition executive excited,” Roper added. “We’ll be looking to partner with the U.K. in many areas but space will definitely be one.”



Quantum computing is one area where the Pentagon worries that it is playing catchup while China continues to leap ahead. The technology is being developed for many civilian applications and the military sees it as potentially game-changing for information and space warfare. “We see this as a very disruptive technology,” said Michael Hayduk, chief of the computing and communications division at the Air Force Research Laboratory. Artificial intelligence algorithms, highly secure encryption for communications satellites and accurate navigation that does not require GPS signals are some of the most coveted capabilities that would be aided by quantum computing. “The Air Force is taking this very seriously,” Hayduk said. The Pentagon is especially intrigued by the potential of quantum computing to develop secure communications and inertial navigation in GPS denied and contested environments. READ MORE HERE


Lockheed Martin is claiming a new breakthrough in the use of 3D printed parts for space. It rolled out a satellite propulsion tank that includes a 46-inch-diameter titanium dome built using electron beam additive manufacturing, then smoothed and welded to a central cylinder.

This is part of a multi-year program to create giant, high-pressure tanks that carry fuel on board satellites. The company says tank delivery time was slashed from two years to three months.

Satellite fuel tanks must be both strong and lightweight to survive launch and decade-long missions in the vacuum of space. That makes titanium an ideal material. “Procuring 4-foot-diameter, 4-inch-thick titanium forgings can take a year or more, making them the most challenging and expensive parts of the tank,” Lockheed said in a news release. “Traditional manufacturing techniques also meant that more than 80 percent of the material went to waste. 3D printing eliminates all that lost material and the titanium used for printing is readily available with no wait time.”

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Sandra Erwin writes about military space programs, policy, technology and the industry that supports this sector. She has covered the military, the Pentagon, Congress and the defense industry for nearly two decades as editor of NDIA’s National Defense...