Secretary of Defense Robert Gates on Monday put forth the Pentagon's 2010 budget proposal, essentially a complete overhaul to the way the military spends money.
It would change the way lucrative government contracts are handed out, or in more official terms, the process of "procurement, acquisition, and contracting."
The budget includes a myriad of cuts, but there are also some interesting additions that show the military's increased interest in robotics and communications, particularly in unmanned aerial vehicles(UAVs).
Proposed additions include buying 30 F-35 Joint Strike Fighters for 2010 (513 over the next five years); increasing the military's budget for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance support by about $2 billion; increasing the number of "cyber experts" in training from 80 to 250 by 2011; and increasing the number of UAVs like the Predator.
Experts have described the Predator as the most dangerous military robot currently out there, noting that 11 out of the 20 al-Qaeda leaders the U.S. military has apprehended have been tracked down via a drone strike. Gates himself described the successful use of UAVs in Iraq and Afghanistan during his budget proposal speech.
"This will include: Fielding and sustaining 50 Predator and Reaper class unmanned aerial vehicle orbits by FY '11 and maximizing their production," Gates said. "This capability, which has been in such high demand in both Iraq and Afghanistan, will now be permanently funded in the base budget. It will represent a 62 percent increase in capability over the current level and 127 percent from a year ago," Gates said.
Politicians are already voicing their opinions on why or why not certain parts of the budget proposal should pass.
The battle of the defense budget will test whether Americans want change of a fundamental nature on the ways things are done in their military.
While it may amount to a showdown between the political old and new guards, it isn't necessarily a case of legacy defense contractors versus upstart tech companies. Robots in the military may bring to mind iRobot's PackBot, but the UAVs mentioned by Gates are actually produced by teams of people employed by standby defense contractors.
The Predator and the Reaper are built by General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, an affiliate of General Atomics that has been a government contractor to agencies including the Department of Energy, Department of Defense, and the National Science Foundation for more than 50 years.
Manufacturers and suppliers for the F-35 Joint Strike Fighters include heavyweight contractors Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, Pratt and Whitney Military Engines, and General Electric.