Budget cuts for the next World War

Published: December 18, 2013 - 12:34 Updated: February 3, 2014 - 00:40

Asymmetric threats have redefined war, and the Internet revolution has blended the product and service world like never before. Imperilled by fiscal stress across the developed world, particularly in the US, a major transformation is underway in modern warfare

Vivek Lall Delhi


The revolution in military affairs has led all nations to respond enthusiastically to emerging technologies. The growing reality is that warfare is entering a new arena, including cyber and space initiatives, where information is the chief currency. This shift is due to the information revolution sweeping humankind. Information superiority aims at reducing one’s observation-to-action loop (observation–orientation–decision–action), while elongating the enemy’s.

The global endeavour is to add ‘force multipliers’ that significantly increase the combat potential of troops, raising the probability of success. The key emerging technologies are precision guidance and stealth products; unmanned platforms; command, control, communications, computers, intelligence, information, surveillance and reconnaissance (C4I2SR) systems; and the expansion of warfare from three dimensions (land, sea, and air) to five, adding space and information warfare.

Fiscal constraints in the United States of America are real, and the effects of sequestration, while delayed, will become increasingly important in US spending decisions. In 2011, President Barack Obama signed the Budget Control Act, introducing a 10 per cent across-the-board spending cuts for the Department of Defense (DOD), which went into effect in early 2013. Those decisions from the administration and Congress have led to examinations of the existing programmes and overwhelming focus on their costs. Sequestration calls for a whopping $1.2 trillion in spending cuts, with half of that amount coming from the DOD.

On February 28 this year, testifying before the House Armed Services Committee, Pentagon leaders said the planned cuts could continue and affect military preparedness, readiness and acquisitions for years to come. The reduction of about $8 billion in the Department of the Navy Fiscal Year (FY) 2013 investment accounts due to sequestration is also far-reaching: impacts will be felt across the board. Naval aviation, strike weapons, ground-warfare systems, shipbuilding and associated support, research and development, training, and outfitting required for current and future readiness, will all feel the impact of budget cuts.

The Army, too, is looking at an FY 2013 budget cut of $12 billion, half of which will be in operations and maintenance. An additional $6 billion in cuts will hit procurement and construction, research, development and testing. These cuts would be applied equally across more than 400
Army programmes.

The Air Force’s programme to develop and purchase new equipment, which it calls ‘New Starts’, has also been affected. Others include the future bomber programme, new unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV), and communications technology. Acquisition of items already developed, like a new refuelling tanker and the F-35A stealth attack aircraft, will also
be delayed.

The 2012 Defence Strategic Guidance identifies a range of missions that US forces need to address with the resources available and details the threat environments in which the missions must be executed. Much of the technical effort focuses on improving the capabilities of the sensor, weapon, communications, cyber, and space systems that will be used to address the emerging threats. The US needs to counter the emerging threats identified in the strategy, particularly the anti-access/area-denial threats posed by Iran and China.

The Air Force will experience greater demands on its forces in the future—with emphasis on the air-sea battle concept—to overcome current and anticipated anti-access and area-denial threats, and continued demand for long-range strike and
intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) platforms.

As concerns stealth and unmanned aerial systems (UAS), there are conflicting considerations. As the US looks forward, its air assets will need more stealth than was actually required or used in Afghanistan, particularly if those assets (including ISR UAVs) are to operate in areas with a high anti-air threat. At the same time, however, the technologies necessary to operate in high threat environments are very expensive to both implement and maintain, and the US government will remain wary about exposing such systems to loss over enemy territory. Hence, tactical considerations will push for stealth, but budget and counter-intelligence factors will push in the other direction. In the US, there is now something of a debate over the future of the Navy’s Unmanned Carrier Launched Airborne Surveillance and Strike (UCLASS) aircraft that reflects these tensions. To get an affordable carrier UAV programme, stealth, payload and range may be sacrificed.

There has not been a major improvement in technology or capability in nearly 50 years in the arena of vertical lift. However, new opportunities are present, taking into account advances in material (composite airframes), controls and, most important, propulsion. However, given the amount of aborted programmes over the past several decades, one doubts whether the US Army is to be the ‘change agent’ for a breakthrough in vertical lift. Several authorities suggest the new generation vertical lift capabilities will not be modelled without a military sponsor for system development, but should these technologies be demonstrated successfully, a large market could open up. There is the resurgent interest in higher-capability turboprop transports to consider. An answer to India’s infrastructure problem may arrive in the form of larger vertical-lift aircraft that can operate as rivals to regional carriers without requiring
traditional airports.


The US Air Force is planning to build a fleet of unmanned warplanes that will fly without human guidance. The next-generation aircraft envisioned by the Air Force would be able to dodge enemy radar and swap payloads for multiple kinds of missions. Equally important is the development of sense, detect, and avoid technologies that will provide the same level of collision avoidance as manned aircraft—a major issue for all UAV operations, whether in crowded commercial or contested
battlefield airspace.

Sales of UAS equipment have been driven primarily by military needs in Iraq, Afghanistan, and other countries where terrorist groups were or are active. The scheduled withdrawal of most troops from Afghanistan by 2014 has reportedly led to an intensification of UAS use to protect
remaining forces.

The ultimate goal in the development of UAV technology is to remove the human pilot completely from fighter aircraft. The US Navy initiated the UCLASS programme with the aim to design and build a platform operable from aircraft carriers. Northrop, Boeing, Lockheed Martin and General Atomics are working on this. As part of this, in July 2013, Northrop developed and displayed a UCLASS bat-wing jet called the X-47B for the Navy. Marking a major milestone, the UCLASS was tested on the aircraft carrier USS George Bush off the Virginia coast. It took off from Naval Air Station Patuxent and landed on the aircraft carrier, by dropping its tail-hook to snag an arresting cable on the deck. This landing proved the expectations about basing UAVs with reconnaissance and strike capabilities on aircraft carriers.

UCLASS was originally conceived to integrate with a carrier air wing and act in concert with manned-strike fighters to hit targets in heavily defended air spaces thousands of miles away with a weapons payload equivalent to the planned carrier-based F-35C Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter (JSF). 

In August 2013, there were reports suggesting that Pentagon leaders altered the US Navy’s vision of UAVs—from UAVs capable of striking defended targets thousands of miles away to a less able platform more suited to hunting terrorists. The Pentagon’s Joint Requirements Oversight Council (JROC) oversaw this change in UCLASS focus with the aims of keeping costs down. Another consideration apparently was to keep unmanned counterterrorism missions as a US military option without the need for
foreign bases.


For the US, maintaining access to space is a real issue, and it will pursue viable backups to counter attacks on its satellite communications networks close to denied areas and quickly reconstitute the capability they provide. This includes the need to identify methods to operate in environments where the global positioning system (GPS) is denied.

There are some doubts that the NASA Space Launch System (SLS) program will go the distance because of its high cost and doubtful purpose. The debut launch of the SLS—now slated for 2017—is likely to be delayed by a year or two because NASA does not have the budget to complete the rocket and its accompanying crew capsule on time. NASA and Congress perhaps oversold the agency’s ability to build the rocket and its Orion capsule on an annual budget of roughly $3 billion.

We can expect to see investment in new US liquid fuel rocket engines, particularly engines that use kerosene for propellant, as well as continued accomplishment in the use of highly complex composite structures for launch vehicles and spacecraft. There is a base of NASA supporters in the US Congress, of course, but many representatives do not deem the arguments for a major manned space flight programme strong enough to overcome fiscal constraints. An interesting question is whether the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) could play a larger international role.

US satellites are expected to face an increasing number of threats, ranging from interceptor weapons to jamming equipment and lasers. These threats range from reversible to severely destructive. The US military will have to develop technologies to fight through jamming. Resilient or resistant antenna designs can perhaps help in this effort. Laser weapons are also a threat—various classes of lasers already exist and high-powered lasers are being developed. Though international agreements bar the militarization of space, development of weapons that could be used in space is ongoing. As envisioned by scientists, a space-based laser could send a powerful destructive beam at enemy weapon deployments such as ballistic missile sites some thousands of miles away. Another possible application would be to use a space laser to provide protection against attacks made on satellites in orbit.

At present the emerging area of research in space technologies is in small (nano/micro/mini) satellites. These are artificial satellites with a wet mass, between 1–10, 10–100, 100–500 kg, respectively. With continued advances in miniaturization, small satellites are increasingly being used to perform missions that previously needed bigger satellites. For example, NASA’s CubeSat programme has been proposed to enable a constellation of 35 eight-kg Earth-imaging satellites to replace a constellation of five 156-kg RapidEye Earth-imaging satellites, with significantly increased revisit times to enhance surveillance capabilities for military use and GPS. Every area of the globe could be imaged every 3.5 hours, rather than RapidEye’s once in 24 hours. Small satellites use electric propulsion, compressed gas, vaporizable liquids such as butane or carbon dioxide or other innovative propulsion systems that are simple, cheap and scalable. Mini/micro/nanosats lack the power supply or mass for large conventional radio transponders, so various miniaturized or innovative communications systems are being tested, such as laser receivers, antenna arrays and satellite to satellite communication networks.

With the advent of digital technology, there needs to be a quantum leap in radar technology. There is an increasing trend towards the physical separation of the radar’s transmitters and receivers by placing the transmitter in space and the receivers on
the ground.

One of the reasons behind the increased worldwide interest in space robotics is the ever-growing number of satellites and items of space debris in orbit around Earth—a situation which augments the risk of collisions. So far, nobody has been able to come up with a viable solution to the problem of recovering damaged or inoperable satellites from these heavily populated orbits.

Cyber Space

Many believe that cyber space will continue to be an area of great government and industry attention and spending. Over the past several years, key folks have spent significant amounts of time in the area of supply chain security, focusing on counterfeit electronics initially, and more recently on protecting the supply chain against cyber threats. Many governments have been trying to understand better the cyber threat environment and how both military and civil government resources are responding. We are at a relatively early stage in efforts—whether voluntary, encouraged or required by government—to protect national infrastructure, key industrial concerns, financial institutions, ‘trusted systems and networks’ and other enterprises against cyber threat. There will be major private sector opportunity, in the US and elsewhere in the world, to assess cyber vulnerability and cyber resilience, and to implement data-driven, risk-based measures to respond.

In the US, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is responsible for coordinating national prevention and mitigation of, and protection and recovery from, cyber incidents. DHS is also charged with disseminating domestic cyber threat and vulnerability analysis and investigating cyber crimes within their jurisdiction.

Foreign adversaries have targeted every major organization in the US and the volume and sophistication of cyber attacks has increased dramatically over the past five years. In the current environment, it will continue to grow. The DHS will be tasked with protection of its own network; coordination across the dot-gov domain; and interaction with the
private sector, especially regarding infrastructure protection.

Historically, the DOD has led technological advances that have proven immensely valuable to the US and the world. One of the most widely cited examples is the Internet, which was formed in the research labs of the Defence Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA). In response to the current scenario, DARPA’s long-range cyber strategy is focused on helping to make cyber defence a manageable part of daily operations and making cyber offence tools as effective and measurable as more conventional weapons. DARPA is looking to build a future in which war-fighters can use cyber tools as tactical weapons that are fully integrated in the kinetic fight.

A Pentagon cyber security budget outline calls for spending almost $23 billion through FY 2018, as efforts are expanded on initiatives from protecting computer networks to developing offensive capabilities. The DOD has already proposed $4.65 billion for such programmes in the fiscal year that begins October 1, an 18 per cent increase from the $3.94 billion budgeted this year.

Commanders can “think, plan and integrate cyber” into the use of air, land and sea weapons. The command said that in FY 2014 the US Army will be developing specific offensive and defensive capabilities for the US Pacific and Central commands.

Where We Stand

As the US, and indeed the Western world, comes under increasing defence budget pressures, three aspects need to be well understood. First, the creation of new technologies and their funding will still lie in that part of the world: the US R&D defence budget alone is over twice the entire defence budget of India. Second, as technologies become more globally generated and sourced as part of a global supply chain, the level of collaboration—and hence unshackling of restrictive export control regimes—will necessarily increase between partner nation states. Finally, the pace of technology ‘levelling’ between the developed and the developing world in the critical areas related to defence can only be facilitated by a rapid maturing process of intellectual property rights (IPR) issues globally.

As we ‘cheat’ physics in many next-generation technologies, it is apparent that multi-disciplinary design and optimization methodologies with a new variable ‘cost’ become essential ingredients as the nature of threats in the next century evolve. As the human race apparently looks to colonize planets in the decades ahead, the race for outer space has only begun between nation states which will generate technologies that spill over into the commercial world. 

Dr. Vivek Lall is  President & CEO, New Ventures Reliance Industries Limited

Asymmetric threats have redefined war, and the Internet revolution has blended the product and service world like never before. Imperilled by fiscal stress across the developed world, particularly in the US, a major transformation is underway in modern warfare
Vivek Lall Delhi


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