NEW YORK: The Pentagon official who oversees the defense industrial base told Wall Street investors this morning that the upcoming defense budget will include funding for weapons prototypes. And Elana Broitman, deputy assistant defense secretary for manufacturing and industrial base policy (DASD industrial base to most Pentagon wonks), cautioned that the absence of lawmakers with military experience and the public’s “war weariness” may emperil passage of robust defense budgets.
Broitman, told the annual Cowen aerospace and defense conference here that a recent meeting of the Deputies Management Action Group (the deputy defense secretary’s strategic group that makes the big budget decisions) approved moving money from large programs to several smaller prototyping efforts.
“We are doubling down on prototype programs,” Broitman told the audience of roughly 175 aerospace industry investors. Where did the money come from for this effort? “We need to put money from some big programs to smaller programs or we we’re going to have some holes,” she said after describing the top-level decision to put money into prototypes. She wouldn’t describe the specific winners and losers because of the impending release (March 4) of the defense budget. But she also noted that space and cyber security are “major, major concerns.” It wasn’t entirely clear if she was speaking broadly of the budget at that point or about prototyping.
This comes after several years of public pledges by Frank Kendall, head of Pentagon acquisition, and others to increase spending on prototypes to preserve industrial design teams and preserve research and development seed corn in the face of declining budgets.
As her boss Kendall has before her, she noted the experience of Bill Perry during the 1990s when the seeds of programs such as the Abrams tank, Apache helicopter, Patriot anti-missile system, several fighter aircraft and a range of space programs were laid.
“It’s the magic that happens in design teams that we want to maintain,” she said. “We want to be a position so that when budgets go up we will have soothing to purchase.”
And that brings us back around to sequestration, which Broitman began her speech addressing. “The cloud of uncertainty still continues to be there,” she noted. “We certainly hope Congress has lost its appetitive for sequestration… but there are absolutely no guarantees.”
Add to that the fact that 2015 is a presidential election year and that will complicate the defense budget as well, since every member of the House, many senators and the Commander in Chief are all up for election. “Every single substantive decision will be deeply affected by those considerations. It just throws a wrench in,” she said, with some understatement.