Embedded computing experts guardedly optimistic on prospects for defense spending

COCOA BEACH, Fla.-Embedded computing industry experts admit they are concerned about threatened U.S. defense budget cuts, yet they are generally optimistic that Pentagon budget cuts-if they actually happen-will not be crippling, and may leave the aerospace and defense embedded computing business relatively unscathed.

"It's a crapshoot" was the general consensus last month among embedded computing business leaders who gathered to discuss industry advancements and challenges at the Embedded Tech Trends 2012 conference and trade show in Cocoa Beach, Fla.

"I could offer a prediction, but it would be just that, a shot in the dark," admits Rodger Hosking, vice president at Pentek Inc. of Upper Saddle River, N.J. "What scares me is that market forecast experts are calling me to find out what's going on," he laughs.

Clayton Tucker, who is in charge of North American aerospace and defense embedded computing at Emerson Network Power in Tempe, Ariz., sees a "ramping down of the operational side," or expenses relating to troops, and increased investment in infrastructure. He predicts "more expenditures to drive efficiencies into the mechanized force." The focus will be on revamping and rebuilding infrastructure, he adds.

"I hear a lot of talk about a defense budget slash, but I don't think it will be executed," Tucker continues. Rather, he sees investment in a technology refresh cycle and infrastructure.

"The main thing is to acknowledge that expeditionary warfare is the biggest black hole for monies," acknowledges Bill Kehret, president and chief executive officer of Themis Computer in Fremont, Calif. The U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) can vastly reduce budget for the whole logistics chain that supports the expeditionary forces, he explains.

In contrast, Kehret and his team are investing in surveillance and reconnaissance for homeland security-type applications. "When we thought we stopped the war, they started thinking about how to bring the war to us," Kehret says. "The only way we can guarantee our freedoms is to be intensely vigilant in surveillance and reconnaissance."

Large programs that are unaffordable, unsustainable, and can't be produced present more prospects for budget cuts, Kehret says.

Should members of the embedded computing industry feel bad about declining military spending, Kehret ponders. "No, because underneath is a military organization hell-bent on modernization," he says.

Other industry pundits at Embedded Tech Trends 2012 tended to agree, that cyclical budget cuts (defense or not) often bring about a needed separation of wheat from chaff, and an improved focus on what is needed in the field now.

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