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Murray: Backbone of Our Military Might

The United States is known around the world for our military air dominance.

Our ability to project force, to protect our shores and to pursue terrorists around the world depends on our superior fighter aircraft, bombers and airlift capacity. And the ability to reach distant shores and stay in the air for long periods of time is a result of American research, development, technology and ingenuity.

America’s brave men and women in uniform answer the call to defend our nation in far corners of the globe. They protect our national security at home and abroad. They fly our planes, patrol the streets and skies of foreign lands, and help protect our borders and our nation’s capital here at home.

As warfighters, they depend on our government to provide them with the equipment that is best suited to accomplishing their missions safely and effectively.

And our government depends on our highly skilled industries — our manufacturers, engineers, researchers and our development and science base — to keep the U.S. military stocked with the best and most advanced tools and equipment available.

But what if they weren’t available? What if we made budgetary and policy decisions without taking the future needs of our men and women in the military in mind?

It’s not impossible. It’s not even unthinkable. It’s happening. And we need to have a real dialogue about the ramifications before we lose the capability to provide our military with the tools and equipment that it needs.

As a Senator from Washington state representing five major military bases, I have been sounding the alarm about a declining domestic aerospace industry for years. In July 1916, Bill Boeing started his airplane company in Seattle. Since that time, Boeing and Washington state have shared the ups and downs of the commercial aerospace industry.

We’ve watched as the domestic base has shrunk, as competition has disappeared and as our airlines and our military have looked overseas for the products that we have the capability to produce at home.

Many in Congress have spent a lot of time talking about how many American jobs are shipped overseas in search of cheaper labor. Aerospace jobs are high-wage, high-skill careers that we need to keep in America for our long-term economic strength and competitiveness.

Preserving a healthy domestic base breeds competition. That’s good for innovation, and ultimately that’s good for the taxpayer.

It took us 100 years to build our American aerospace industry. We have machinists who have passed experience and know-how down the ranks for 50 years. We have engineers who know our mission and the needs of our soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines. And we have a reputation for delivering for our military. But once our plants shut down, the industry is gone.

When procurement decisions are made to shut down production lines in plants across the United States, that’s what happens.

We’re not just losing jobs, we’re losing skills and the potential ability to provide our military with the equipment to defend our nation and project our might worldwide.

As Congress and the administration begin a serious conversation on procurement reform, we have to ensure a process that gets the military the specialized equipment that it needs in a timely manner. This conversation must include our industrial base. We have to consider how we achieve reform while continuing to support the development of our aerospace industry here at home.

This isn’t just about one state or one line of aircraft.

It’s not just about Washington state, Kansas, Connecticut or Alabama. It’s not just about the presidential helicopter, the F-22, the C-17 or a new refueling tanker.

This is about our nation’s economic stability, skill base and future military capability.

It calls for thoughtful planning and projection about whom our future enemies might be and how they would try to defeat our nation. It behooves our country and our military to maintain a nimble and dynamic base. Once a new threat is identified, a solution must be close at hand.

The discussion that we are preparing for in the Senate is happening as our country faces two difficult, but not unrelated, challenges — winning an international war on terror and rebuilding a faltering economy.

It’s irresponsible to allow America to surrender our aerospace leadership. Once our plants shut down, once our skilled workers move to other fields, once the infrastructure is gone — it can’t be rebuilt overnight.

Unless we wake up and start taking a long-term view, we are not only going to continue to lose some of our best-paying American jobs, but with them our commercial aerospace industry and the backbone of our military might.

Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) is chairwoman of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Transportation and Housing and Urban Development and is also a member of the Subcommittee on Defense.

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