Defense Spending is Shifting to Future Challenges

The Defense Department is shifting military priorities from land wars to future challenges that involve long range strategy, which will change the scope of future defense projects and funding.

Funding priorities for a new generation of long-range nuclear bombers, new electronic jammers and radar, and rockets to launch satellites would help the U.S. military maintain its competitive edge, Gates told reporters during a recent trip to Asia. Gates halted many of these projects in 2009, but now that the U.S. military has begun pulling troops out of Iraq and has set 2014 as a date for withdrawal from Afghanistan, these projects are expected to shape defense spending in years to come.

This would be good news for defense companies like Lockheed Martin, Boeing and Northrop Grumman, which have been scrambling for new work as defense spending has been reduced.

For the past two years Gates has focused on land wars and deferred investment in long-term capabilities that could combat possible enemies such as China, said Patrick Cronin at the Center for a New American Security.

“Gates may have tilted too far, but he has indeed made some adjustments with this latest plan,” he said, referring to the fiscal 2012 budget plan.

Part of this shift in focus is due to China’s ongoing military buildup, which has been shaping U.S. defense policy for many years. China’s recent test flight of its J-20 stealth fighter and a new anti-ship ballistic missile has added to concerns over China’s growing military strength. Yet U.S. Defense officials warn against over-reacting to the China threat.

“We see them progressing rather dramatically across a variety of areas. But … I don’t view them as 10 feet tall,” Vice Admiral David Dorsett, director of naval intelligence, told Reuters.

Lockheed Martin said news of the J-20 could fuel demand for its F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, which has been put on hold because of budget constraints. Lockheed is also urging the Pentagon to reexamine its cancellation of Lockheed’s stealthy F-22 fighter last year.

Republican Representative Randy Forbes recently expressed concerns about China’s new “carrier killer” missile. He also said lawmakers would need more data on how the Pentagon’s proposed spending cuts would affect the U.S. military’s ability to respond to China before approving Gates’ spending cuts.

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