WASHINGTON ― Part of being a great president is showing off America’s military strength, according to President-elect Donald Trump.
The military “may come marching down Pennsylvania Avenue,” Trump told the Washington Post in an interview published Wednesday. “That military may be flying over New York City and Washington, D.C., for parades. I mean, we’re going to be showing our military.”
Trump spoke about his vision of military parades in vague terms, suggesting it was something he might oversee in the future. But according to several sources involved in his inaugural preparations, Trump has endeavored to ensure that his first day as commander-in-chief is marked by an unusual display of heavy military equipment.
During the preparation for Friday’s transfer-of-power, a member of Trump’s transition team floated the idea of including tanks and missile launchers in the inaugural parade, a source involved in inaugural planning told The Huffington Post. “They were legit thinking Red Square/North Korea-style parade,” the source said, referring to massive military parades in Moscow and Pyongyang, typically seen as an aggressive display of muscle-flexing.
The military, which traditionally works closely with the presidential inaugural committee, shot down the request, the source said. Their reason was twofold. Some were concerned about the optics of having tanks and missile launchers rolling down Pennsylvania Avenue. But they also worried that the tanks, which often weigh over 100,000 pounds, would destroy the roads.
“I could absolutely see structural support being a reason [not to use tanks],” a Department of Defense official said. “D.C. is built on a swamp to begin with.”
Defense Department spokeswoman Valerie Henderson declined to comment on the request for tanks and missile launchers, referring questions to the Trump transition team. Trump advisor Boris Epshteyn told HuffPost that the presidential inaugural committee worked closely with the military “to render appropriate honors” for Trump’s swearing-in. But he directed questions about “specific aspects” of the military’s support to the Defense Department.
The Pentagon didn’t reject all of Trump’s ideas. At the request of the president-elect, there are five military flyovers ― one for each branch of the armed services ― planned for Friday’s inaugural parade, Pentagon spokesman Maj. Jamie Davis told HuffPost.
The Air Force plans to fly four fighter jets: an F-35, an F-16, an F-22 and an F-15E. The Navy will fly four F/A-18 combat jets. The Army will fly four UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters. The Marines will fly four V-22 Ospreys. And the Coast Guard, which is still finalizing plans, is looking at flying four MH-65 rescue helicopters, Davis said. The number and type of planes used could change, depending on Friday’s weather, he added.
Military flyovers are not typically part of inaugural parades. Outgoing President Barack Obama did not use any military aircraft at either of his inaugurations, the Defense Department official said. There were no flyovers at President George W. Bush’s 2005 inauguration, but he did have a flyover during his 2001 opening ceremony, which occurred two days before the inauguration. President Ronald Reagan considered including flyovers in his second inauguration in 1985, but one never materialized, the official said. Before that, the last president to include military flyovers as part of his inauguration was President Harry Truman in 1949.
Stephen Kerrigan, who held top positions in Obama’s first and second presidential inaugural committees, said he was “shocked” to hear about the planned flyovers for Friday. “It seems unnecessary and the optics don’t seem appropriate. … It’s very Red Square,” he said.
Airspace over Washington is highly restricted. In the days after the September 11 attacks, planes flying over the city terrified people, Kerrigan said. “If there are fighter jets flying over Washington, people are going to assume something bad is happening.”
The flyovers will not add to the cost of the inaugural events, Davis said. Friday’s events will serve as training for the pilots, who are required to fly a set number of hours each month “to maintain proficiency.”
Traditionally, the military plays a big role in inaugurations — but not by display of heavy weaponry. The armed forces usually contributes “musical units, color guards, salute batteries and honor cordons.” Eight-hundred-and-twenty service members were authorized to help coordinate the inaugural events and 5,000 service members will participate on the day of the ceremonies, the Joint Task Force North Capital Region said in September.
UPDATE: Jan. 20 ― The military canceled the flyovers due to poor weather conditions on Friday, Davis said.
Igor Bobic contributed reporting.