The United States needs to begin a national dialogue on just how open it should be to procuring military and space wares from abroad, and what the proper role of the American defense/space industrial base should be, a senior defense industry official said.

"I think from a national resource strategy that — I’m not sure that the federal government has really ever taken that on," said Craig Cooning, vice president and general manager of Boeing Space and Intelligence Systems, a unit of The Boeing Co. [BA]. He responded to persistent and repeated questioning from reporters during a media briefing on satellite space programs.

One questioner asked why the United States is open, buying important platforms from overseas companies such as the next Marine One helicopter for U.S. presidents (an Italian design), one of two versions of the Navy Littoral Combat Ship (an Australian design), a huge aerial refueling tanker aircraft (a European design) — yet at the same time some other nations or groups are closed to buying U.S. products in their procurement programs, such as the future European Galileo global positioning satellites system.

Is this fair, and does this make sense from a national security standpoint? Cooning was asked.

He applauded raising the topic. "I think its worthy of discussion," he said, while adding that he wouldn’t want to opine on the matter himself.

However, he was asked, isn’t that fairness issue, in fact, the discussion that must be brought forth?

"I think it’s an appropriate discussion," Cooning said. "What are the elements of national power? … I think a lot of the elements of national power have to do with our industrial base, and how we sustain that. And then, do you extend it beyond our shores? And I don’t think we have clear strategy in that area, from a national policy standpoint. And I think we should."

A national discussion on this issue should settle some now-unanswered questions, he said.

"I don’t think it’s real clear, from a composite view as to … what role does the American industrial base play in our national security strategy vis a vis our partners?" That was a reference to U.S. allies such as the United Kingdom, the European Union and Australia.

John Roddy, Boeing GPS program director, offered a further thought.

Why is it, he asked, that Europeans embarking upon the Galileo GPS program wouldn’t want to obtain the benefit of the vast wealth of experience of a U.S.-based company that has been working in GPS systems for decades?

"Just from … looking at Galileo, and — versus [the American] GPS, I mean, we’ve been flying that for 30 years now," he said. "So, the Europeans want to go ahead and embark on flying Galileo … We’ve been through that. So, it seems like, somehow, we could help them. But in the meantime there’s the policy statement that" the work is to go to European firms.

After all, "Some of what they want to provide is a safety of life type enhancements for GPS. And, so, why wouldn’t anyone want to help something like that? … "