Panetta aligns with arms makers on export reforms, readies for budget cuts

WASHINGTON – Defense Secretary Leon Panetta told a group of aerospace defense industry executives on Tuesday he supported their calls to ease federal rules on exporting weapons and defense technology.

“The goal is … to look at ways of making it easier to sell weapons to other countries,” said Pentagon press secretary George Little. “The secretary believes it’s important to take a hard look at this.”

Panetta told leaders of the Aerospace Industry Association he would support their efforts during a one-hour meeting at the Pentagon, Little told reporters. 

The White House launched an export control reform campaign as a federal government-wide effort in April, seeking to update the rules and processes governing the transfer of weapons, weapons manufacturing capabilities and technological information to foreign countries.

Those rules must prevent weapons from falling into the hands of adversaries while also allowing U.S. companies to get them to allied forces in an efficient time frame. The White House called the current system “fragmented” across several agencies. 

Industry executives from Pratt & Whitney, Northrop Grumman, BAE Systems, General Dynamics, Harris Corp., Raytheon and others advocate for export control “modernization.” Those steps include streamlining red tape to create more specialized approval systems instead of a one-size-fits-all approach to all arms exports.

Panetta, recognizing the defense industry’s anxiety over the fall budget crunch, also stressed the importance of a strong military industrial base, continuing private-sector research and development innovation, and finding more efficiency savings.

One word left out of Little’s summary: buying.  If there was any tension between the industry reps and the Democratic defense secretary, however, he said it did not show.

“I think there was an alignment of views expressed at the table today,” said Little, who was in the meeting. “The themes were similar, and emphasis was on the need to work together.”

Does that mean they’re on the same team?

“The sense of partnership was real at the table,” Little said, adding he can’t speak for what industry wants.


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