National Park Service acting director Dan Smith faces plenty of looming priorities this summer, including an $11 billion backlog in maintenance needs as well as natural disasters such as the recent wildfire damage to Big Bend National Park.
But in recent days, another issue has competed for Smith’s attention: How to satisfy President Donald Trump’s request to station tanks or other armored military vehicles on the Mall for his planned Fourth of July address to the nation.
The ongoing negotiations over whether to use massive military hardware, such as Abrams tanks or Bradley Fighting Vehicles, as a prop for Trump’s “Salute to America” is just one of many unfinished details when it comes to the celebration planned for Thursday, according to several people briefed on the plan, who spoke on the anonymity to speak frankly.
Trump – who has already ordered up a flyover by military aircraft including Air Force One – is also interested in featuring an F-35 stealth fighter and involvement from Marine Helicopter Squadron One, which flies the presidential helicopter, two government officials said. The Navy’s Blue Angels were supposed to have a break between a performance in Davenport, Iowa, on June 30 and one in Kansas City, Missouri, on July 6 but will now be flying in the District on the Fourth.
At least 300 service members were slated to participate, primarily from military bands and drill teams, but that number could rise as additional military aircraft and other flourishes are added to the event.
The Defense Department has not released any estimate for how much the celebration could cost. But the use of numerous aircraft could drive it well into the millions of dollars when counting fuel and maintenance.
The F-35 costs about $30,000 per hour to fly, according to Pentagon estimates. Each Blue Angel jet costs at least $10,000 per hour to operate, and the cost of flying an Air Force One jet is more than $140,000 per hour.
The cost of a military parade Trump had planned for last year was about $92 million, including $50 million in Defense Department costs, defense officials said at the time. The parade was scuttled after the potential costs became public.
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SOURCE: Juliet Eilperin, Josh Dawsey and Dan Lamothe
The Washington Post