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Defense Industry Prepares to Defend Itself

Chris Maddaloni/CQ Roll Call
Sen. John McCain is one of many defense industry allies concerned about the effect of defense cuts on jobs and on military capability.

Taking the lead has been the Aerospace Industries Association, which this summer launched a campaign dubbed "Second to None" with a simple message: no more cuts. The goal was to educate the public and Members of Congress about the industry and deliver the message that proposed cuts will kill jobs.

"It's communicating not only with super committee members, but with all Members, what the impact of budget cuts would be on jobs as well as the capability of the industrial base," AIA Vice President Cord Sterling said.

The association's lobbying expenditures in the third quarter of this year totaled just over $886,000, more than quadruple what it had spent at the same point in 2010. The campaign involved no paid ads but rallied defense industry employees to contact their members, including a September "march to the Hill."

The nonprofit Center for Security Policy this fall spearheaded a grass-roots lobbying effort dubbed the Coalition for the Common Defense. The idea was to bring together public policy experts, veterans and academics "who are very alarmed that we are in the process of eviscerating the military capabilities of this country," CSP President and CEO Frank Gaffney said.

"I think that it's past time, frankly, to do this," Gaffney added. "I wish we had been doing more of it earlier. But realizing that now is a moment when some potentially really perilous decisions are in the offing, it was better now than never."

Three think tanks — AEI, the Heritage Foundation and the Foreign Policy Initiative — also launched the Defending Defense project to deliver the message that austerity should not weaken defense. It was at one of that project's Capitol Hill events in September that Senate Minority Whip Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) threatened to abandon the super committee if defense cuts weren't taken off the table.

Defense experts acknowledge that budget cuts are an inevitable part of the withdrawal of troops from Iraq and Afghanistan. For both political and practical reasons, however, those cuts are likely to fall not on personnel but directly on weapons systems and on research and development. That alarms defense contractors, who see cuts under virtually any debt reduction scenario.

In contrast to previous military draw-downs, "it's harder to see where the floor is, how low you can go," said David Berteau, director of the international security program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. Eaglen, of the Heritage Foundation, was more blunt: "It's complete uncertainty and chaos."

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