Trump asks for military tanks on the Mall as part of grandiose July Fourth event
WASHINGTON — National Park Service acting director Dan Smith faces plenty of looming priorities this summer, including an $11 billion backlog in maintenance needs and 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 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, Mo., 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, officials said at the time. The parade was scuttled after the potential costs became public.
Other details of the July 4 celebration remain up in the air with just days to go. White House officials intend to give out tickets for attendees to sit in a VIP section and watch Trump’s speech but did not develop a distribution system before much of the staff left for Asia last week, according to two administration officials. Officials also are still working on other key crowd management details, such as how to get attendees through magnetometers in an orderly fashion.
Traditionally, major gatherings on the Mall, including inauguration festivities and a jubilee commemorating the start of a new millennium, have featured a designated event producer. But in this case, the producer is the president himself.
The White House declined to comment on the ongoing plans.
Advocates for the Park Service and some Democratic lawmakers and local officials have questioned why the federal government is devoting resources to the event given constrained budgets and other demands. ‘‘It’s irresponsible to ask the National Park Service to absorb the costs of an additional and political event when there are so many unmet needs in the parks,’’ Coalition to Protect America’s National Parks chair Phil Francis, whose group represents current, former and retired Park Service employees and volunteers, said in an e-mail.