SALON DU BOURGET, France — A month after President Donald Trump scolded NATO in an address to the alliance and claimed partner countries lean too much on the United States for defense funding, a panel of senior Air Force officials struck a more positive note, reasserting the U.S. military’s commitment to the organization.
That concept of the alliance is dated, suggested Heidi Grant, deputy under secretary of the Air Force for internal affairs.
“Years ago, many countries globally depended on the U.S., and part of the strategy may have been to draw on U.S. supplies, U.S. capability,” Grant told reporters here at the Paris Air Show on Monday. “But I think in the last several years, the partners are recognizing and realizing that our stocks and munitions aren’t what they used to be and they’re not going to be there as we draw down.”
Officials said they’re also asking industry to look at ways to reduce the delay in getting the newest U.S. military technology into allies’ hands, to improve interoperability and make them more capable of self-defense at the same time.
“We’re seeing the trend that our partners and allies want the capability at the same time,” Grant said. “Something that [Military Deputy for the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Air Force for Acquisition Lt. Gen. Arnold Bunch] and I have asked of industry is, whatever they’re developing, think about export up front. Because we can’t afford … to start off with equipment, then two years later give it to our partners and allies.”
Right now, she said, there’s interest from a number of countries in acquiring surplus F-16 Fighting Falcons. The Lockheed Martin-made fighter has flown for the Air Force since the late 1970s and in 2015 was ranked by FlightGlobal as the second most common military aircraft around the globe, after the Sikorsky UH-60 Black Hawk and Seahawk.
Grant characterized the number of excess F-16s available as “more than a dozen,” and said the supply is not enough to meet demand from all the nations that want them.
“They just want U.S. is my general [impression] — anything we can do, all the capabilities we can bring to bear,” she said. “Their demand and interest is more … than I’ve ever seen, and I’ve been in the position seven years. There’s interest as you see some countries going to the F-35; they may be looking to divest some of their F-16s. And there’s partner nations out there that could use them. We’re working with many countries to make these transactions, third-party transfers, work.”
The number of nations upgrading to the F-35 could grow soon: On Monday, Lockheed officials revealed details of a planned block buy deal totaling $37 billion, involving 440 aircraft and 11 nations, including the U.S., according to a Reuters report.