Latest Pentagon guidance may bode well for military technology development and research
Posted by John Keller
I've been reading a lot lately about President Obama's new guidelines for the U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) to help the nation's military control its costs. These guidelines, outlined in a DOD report released this month entitled Sustaining U.S. Global Leadership: Priorities for 21st Century Defense , emphasize Special Operations forces, unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), and cyber security , while signaling potential reductions in U.S. military nation-building efforts, nuclear forces , and in the number of U.S. soldiers and Marines.
Critics contend new guidelines threaten to gut U.S. defense forces, but I don't see it. In fact, the new policy might bode well for military technology developers working on applications such as intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance; sensors; signal processing; and unmanned vehicles.
It's true the Pentagon's budget may be heading down in the next several years, but perhaps not dramatically. A worst-case scenario would force the Pentagon to trim $500 billion over the next 10 years if Congress can't find new ways of reducing defense spending. That would be a cut of about $50 billion a year out of a total annual Pentagon budget of about $670 billion. Still, I doubt such deep cuts will happen.
It's an election year, and no one in the Administration or Congress wants to appear soft on defense. Doing so would spell electoral defeat for many members of Congress, and perhaps even for Obama himself. I think those concerned will come up with an eleventh-hour deal to avoid deep cuts.
Something else to think about: Obama says he expects the Pentagon budget actually to increase at about the rate of inflation every year for the next decade. This doesn't sound like the Administration wants to make big cuts in overall military defense spending to me.
A cornerstone of the new Pentagon guidelines seems to be a gradual reduction in the number of solders and Marines in the U.S. defense force. Personnel costs are some of the biggest expenses the U.S. military faces. These costs include not only salaries, but also the costs of feeding, housing, and equipping soldiers and Marines.
The Army today has about 570,000 troops, which is up from about 482,000 before the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Pentagon leaders now would like to shrink the Army to about 520,000 troops, perhaps even more.
Reducing the number of soldiers and Marines would free-up a substantial amount of money. Now if Obama is sincere in his wish to maintain the current level of defense spending, then where might the savings from reducing troop levels go?
My guess is technology development and research. It seems Obama wants to maintain or enhance the nation's capability in intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance, as well as in cyber security and unmanned vehicles. Doing so requires constant technology development and research, and I think this is what will happen.
We won't know for sure until next month when the Pentagon releases its detailed budget request for federal fiscal year 2013. Military research and development spending has suffered for the past several years to support military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. Now that those efforts are winding down, that money can go elsewhere in the Pentagon's budget.
I'll be watching project research and development spending when the defense budget request comes out next month. I'll also be watching other technology spending to see if this is where money will be diverted.
If technology development and research spending increases next year, it will be high time. Nearly a decade of steady military operations in the Middle East have taken their toll on military forces, and it's past time to rebuild the force with the latest technologies.
This is the best opportunity we have seen in years to put more money into military technology develop and research. Let's hope those concerned don't blow the chance.