PAUL LEWIS / WASHINGTON DC

Department of Defense decision seen as retaliation for French opposition to Iraq war

The US Department of Defense is scaling back considerably the planned participation of US military personnel and equipment at the Paris air show in June in a move interpreted by many as political retaliation for France's opposition to the Iraq war.

US military personnel attendance will be limited to 06 level and below officers and equivalent civil servants. The most senior US Air Force and Army officerswill be colonels, while captains will be the most senior US Navy attendees. While this will still allow most programme managers to go, the move will bar other traditional attendees such as programme executive officers, generals, flag officers and secretaries of the air force, army or navy.

The US Aerospace Industries Association (AIA) had wanted clarification from DoD undersecretary for defence policy Douglas Feith in the face of mounting uncertainty and a looming 20 April shipping deadline. AIA vice-president international affairs Joel Johnson is putting on a brave face, saying: "They're not asking industry not to go. This is not the Armageddon scenario some had supposed."

There has been growing concern that the US government would withdraw completely from the show as the US Congress, led by Representative Jim Saxon, threatened to veto participation to punish France. Notification to Congress has to be made by 1 May on the planned level of US military participation and cost, but with the DoD already limiting attendance, it is not expected to be blocked.

The DoD is restricting its equipment to six aircraft representative of types flown in the war, none of which will fly at the show. They comprise the Boeing C-17, F/A-18C/D Hornet, AV-8B Harrier, AH-64D Apache Longbow, Lockheed Martin F-16C/D and Rockwell B-1B. This will disappoint Northrop Grumman, which had wanted to display the E-2C Hawkeye 2000 and follows the USAF's cancellation of an RQ-4A Global Hawk demonstration in Germany around the time of Paris. Lockheed Martin wanted a navy P-3C Orion at the show.

So far only General Dynamics' Gulfstream has pulled out of the show, claiming the people to whom it wants to market its special mission aircraft will not be attending. Johnson concedes the absence of senior US officers and officials is likely to result in a thinning out of the number of senior US aerospace executives present.

Source: Flight International