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The New Obama Doctrine: Doing Less with Less

The Obama Administration announced its new strategy for the U.S. armed forces yesterday that will reflect future budget reality for the Defense Department. While no nation ever wants to state that its military size and missions are backed into a total budget number rather they claim to be buying the necessary capability at a certain price. The Obama defense team stood there yesterday and made that claim.

It really is though a combination of the two. The U.S. is under severe budgetary pressure. The Supercommittee failed which mandates a series of cuts to all spending including defense over the next several years. The DoD and Armed Services will have less money to buy things so our capability will be reduced. Similar to the Nineties with the ending of the Cold War but worse due to the current economic state and the overall size of the military.

The core change enunciated is the ending of the “Two War” plan which supposedly drove U.S. strategy since WW II. The U.S. had to have the ability to deal with a major war in Europe and a regional one. The new plan limits our ability to fighting one war and containing another. Conventional forces especially will be reduced to mean troops, aircraft, ships and heavy equipment.

That does not mean there are not opportunities as the hope is to use new systems such as UAV’s and better intelligence to make up for the lack of firepower. Special Forces will be used for regional conflicts rather then heavy brigades deploying such as they did to Iraq and Afghanistan. They will need equipment and force multipliers from across the spectrum.

The defense industry will also have to contract and adjust. There may not be any new heavy programs for several years. Aircraft will be limited to the F-35, the KC-46A and a new bomber of some sort. Carriers, destroyers and submarines along with amphibious ships will be cut and construction of new ones reduced. The Army and Marines will lose boots on the ground and the need to train, equip and support them. Big contracts will be fewer and competition for them much greater until the industry right sizes.

We will probably see many companies exiting the business. Either through M&A or just testing other markets to just disappearing. This will be hardware and support contractors. The DoD workforce will also shrink. Some communities will be hit hard as Wichita, KS is learning this week.

Congress will fight for some programs with each other and the Administration. The budget may not shrink as fast as planned and individual efforts may be saved.

All-in-all the next ten years will see a major adjustment to what the U.S. invests in its military and to the defense economy as a whole. Long term a path similar to the United Kingdom where conventional forces have shrunk precipitously over the last thirty years may be the best case. No matter what the U.S. defense budget will go down for a few years with a magnifying effect on the U.S. economy.

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