President Donald Trump’s second annual Independence Day celebration will feature one major change from last year: It will have no tanks or other military equipment on static display in the nation’s capital, according to two defense officials.
Defense Secretary Mark Esper last week approved an Interior Department request for the 2020 “Salute to America,” providing aerial, musical and ceremonial support to the day’s events, said Army Lt. Col. Chris Mitchell, a Pentagon spokesperson.
This year, the festivities will also include a flyover of Mount Rushmore, as POLITICO first reported, as well as an “aerial salute” to several cities that played roles in the American Revolution: Boston, New York City, Philadelphia and Baltimore, Mitchell said. Roughly 1,700 service members will support the celebrations.
Mitchell would not confirm details of the flyovers, which will involve Defense Department and “heritage” aircraft. But another defense official said the request for the Washington, D.C., event included the Air Force’s Thunderbirds demonstration team, while the Navy’s Blue Angels will fly over Mount Rushmore on July 3.
This would mark the Thunderbirds’ first time participating in Trump’s “Salute to America” event. Last year’s festivities involved a Blue Angels flyover.
In addition to the Thunderbirds, the request for the D.C. event included the F-35 and F-22 fighter jets, B-2 stealth bomber, V-22 Osprey tilt-rotor, CH-47 Chinook and AH-64 Apache helicopters, Coast Guard aircraft and a presidential aircraft, either Air Force One or Marine One, said the defense official, who requested anonymity to discuss ongoing planning.
Unlike last year, the July Fourth celebration will not include static displays on the mall of military ground equipment such as Bradley fighting vehicles, the two defense officials said. It was not immediately clear why the administration decided to eliminate the static displays this year, but their exclusion will likely reduce cost and crowds on the national mall.
Last year’s celebration cost taxpayers more than $13 million, twice as much as previous celebrations, government watchdogs reported Thursday. The inclusion of military vehicles and Trump’s attendance at the Lincoln Memorial drove up costs.
Mitchell said this year’s flights are a “sunk cost,” adding “these aircraft and crews would be using these hours for proficiency and training at other locations if they were not conducting these flyovers.”
Trump has promised a second Independence Day celebration in the nation’s capital this year despite an outcry from lawmakers concerned about the public health implications of holding a large event amid the coronavirus pandemic.
The White House has said it will take precautions this year to ensure public safety during July Fourth celebrations, although it has not provided details about what those measures would entail.
“It will have a different look than 2019 to ensure the health and safety of those attending,” said White House spokesperson Judd Deere. “The American people have shown tremendous courage and spirit in the fight against this global pandemic just as our forefathers did in the fight to secure our independence, and both deserve celebration on America’s birthday this year.”