By Bryan Bender, Globe Staff
WASHINGTON -- America's aerospace and defense industry is gearing up for a major lobbying campaign to persuade President-elect Barack Obama not to make major cuts in prized Pentagon weapons programs, while also making an appeal for the nation's aviation infrastructure to be included in Obama's economic recovery plan.
The Aerospace Industries Association, which represents the nation's major defense and aerospace companies, said today that it plans to head off cutbacks in the defense budget that could harm its financial interests, as recommended recently by a series of Pentagon advisory boards and signaled last week by Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates.
"There is some speculation out there, in fact, that the defense budget will be the source of cutbacks in future years to pay for other needs," Marion C. Blakey, AIA's president and CEO, told company executives and members of the media today. "Defense [research and development] is expected to decrease. Some other budgets are probably poised to go down."
But she said the association has already started to make its case to the incoming administration of the need to modernize the armed forces and sustain the record defense budgets of recent years to buy equipment she said is critical to maintaining America's military edge.
"We are pressing the need for modernization and recapitalization even in these tough economic times," Blakey said. "What we believe is that the United States must maintain its technological edge when it comes to weapon systems."
However, the industry will have to make its arguments to a new administration that has indicated that some major weapons programs conceived decades ago during the Cold War -- many of which have skyrocketed in cost and are experiencing development delays -- should be on the chopping block in lieu of more pressing needs.
Gates, whom Obama has asked to stay on in the new administration, last week penned an article in Foreign Affairs magazine in which he chided the military-industrial complex -- including powerful members of Congress -- for being too wedded to conventional weapon systems at the expense of tools he believes are better suited to fighting terrorists and unconventional warfare.
"We will certainly be making a very strong case," Blakey said when asked if her organization would fight such cuts. "And I think this industry's case is highly persuasive."
Indeed, the industry is also gearing up to make sure it is the beneficiary of some of Obama's pending economic stimulus package.
"I was a bit disappointed," Blakey said of Obama's recent pledge to make historic investments in public works and other infrastructure to help create jobs, noting that he left out new airports, an upgraded air traffic control system, and other aviation investments that she said are "all a part of 21st century solutions."
The association has launched a new ad campaign, "The Strength to Lift America," that highlights the aerospace and defense industry's contributions to the economy -- including accounting for more than 2 million "middle class" jobs and 30,000 suppliers in 50 states as well as the leading manufacturing exporter overseas.
"We can provide a vital lift in the most opportune time to get our nation back on its economic feet," Blakey told the audience. "So count on us."
Yet even Blakey herself said the industry overall has weathered much of the storm that has damaged the rest of the economy. This year it will post an estimated $204 billion in sales, up 2.1 percent, she reported.
"The gangbuster trends of the last few years in our industry are almost certainly over for a while," she said, "but we do not anticipate a severe downturn in the near term either."
About Political Intelligence
Glen Johnson is Politics Editor at boston.com and lead blogger for "Political Intelligence." He moved to Massachusetts in the fourth grade, and has covered local, state, and national politics for over 25 years. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @globeglen.