It was a bit jarring to hear Boeing's top military salesman say the Obama administration's export polices are looking better than they did under the Bush administration. Of course, it would be a bit jarring to hear any defense executive say any administration is looking better on arms export policies.
In a decade of covering arms exports I have rarely heard a kind word said by the defense industry about US arms export policies. So when Boeing's Chris Raymond told reporters at a pre-Paris Air Show briefing that this administration is "more forward leaning" on arms exports, I sat up a bit straighter.
"I think we see a more active discussion on these things," Raymond said, noting rhetoric from the Obama administration about working more closely with allies and ensuring they have the capabilities they need to work with the US.
The F-22 is the greatest single challenge on the arms export front. The so-called Obey Amendment forbids foreign sales of the plane and even bars the spending of money to analyse whether the plane could responsibly be exported. Raymond sidestepped questions about the plane, noting that Lockheed is the lead. But I know that the Japanese prime minister wrote President Obama asking for the plane before the president took the oath of office -- a very bold move for Japan and a clear indication of just how hungry they are for the plane. And Sen. Daniel Inouye, chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, appears likely to push for export to Japan.
Even if the Japanese plane costs an estimated $250 million per plane --- after it is stripped of some its most sensitive techs for export -- I would not be surprised if they continue their push to buy a plane that would give them a clear advantage over both China and North Korea.
Raymond almost undermined his own argument about the Obama administration's stance when he cited the State Department approvals of C-17 sales to Australia, UK and Canada, which as Jim Wolf of Reuters noted, were approved by the Bush administration. But Raymond is clearly looking ahead, and he cited combatant commander conversations about cooperating with allies and a focus by the Obama administration on the Middle East and "building partnerships...”
With the Paris Air Show starting on Monday, these comments are sure to be a staple of conversation in the chalets, as NATO allies continue to try and pry open the massive American market. Of course, the Russians and Chinese will also be watching the US stance on arms exports since they rely on foreign sales as important foreign policy tools and tend to be just a bit less restrictive in the levels of technology and capability they will sell to their bestest friends.