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Nightmare of uncertainty may be coming to an end

I think our industry has been ready for some good news for quite a while now. Aerospace and defense since last fall has been hit with a relentless barrage of sequestration horror stories, fiscal cliff negotiations that go nowhere, and all-but-certain impending Pentagon budget cuts that collectively have morale in a tailspin.

That's not even close to the worst of it, however. The biggest drag on the financial well-being of the U.S. defense industry over the past several months has been the paralyzing uncertainty of how to move forward because no one has a clear idea how much money the Pentagon will have to spend on defense technology over the next year or more.

The U.S. Department of Defense's fiscal year 2014 budget request was supposed to be released last February. Now it may be as early as this month, or perhaps as late as June.

For months, perhaps longer, everyone was holding on to cash, making as few real business commitments as possible, and generally hunkering down for...well, we weren't sure what for, but our industry has been in a defensive crouch, it seems, for longer than we can remember.

Then last month came a glimmer of hope from one of the embedded computing industry's longtime and respected pundits, Ray Alderman, executive director of the VITA Open Standards, Open Markets embedded computing industry trade association in Fountain Hills, Ariz. In short, Alderman says the worst may be over for much of the military electronics industry. This isn't to say bad things are over, but the worst of the bad things may be coming to an end soon. The worst of the bad things may be over. Hey, at this stage we'll take whatever we can get, right?

Is there still uncertainty in the defense industry? Most certainly. Does dread still permeate our industry in anticipation of sizable budget cuts? You bet. Still, with sequestration in progress and a defense budget imminent, at least industry planners will have something solid to work with.

Not only is this long toxic period of uncertainty probably near its end, but the military embedded computing industry could see a surge in activity once the fiscal year 2014 Pentagon budget request is issued, Alderman wrote in his semiannual State of the VITA Technology Industry report.

The reason, essentially, is a potential end to the confusion and uncertainty that has plagued our industry for most of the past year. Even if the news is bad, as well it could be, at least it will be some real news. Without something tangible to hold on to, people usually imagine the worst.

I would be skeptical about what a "surge in activity" in the embedded computing industry might look like in this day and age, but I think we're getting used to low expectations. Any uptick in business activity could be considered a surge, and we as an industry will be grateful for it.

Now that the 2014 U.S. Department of Defense budget request may be coming soon, I think we'll find that the reality won't be as bad as our worst fears. Let's not delude ourselves, however. We're not about to see a return to the good old days.

Alderman points out that the aerospace and defense embedded computing industry remains "in a fog of uncertainty and confusion," which retards hiring and budgetary decisions. Industry innovations through research, development, and other innovations have become stagnant such that "there is no point in going over promising military applications and technologies" until things change, Alderman wrote.

That change could be at hand. We're slowly learning what sequestration will mean for the defense industry. When the budget request comes out, we'll have a better idea how things will go over the next year or so. Industry leaders will be able to start planning again, and that simple development will be huge.

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