Sunday, January 4, 2009

Obama actions, rhetoric, give defense electronics industry a sigh of relief

Posted by John Keller

Barack Obama's political positions had given the U.S. defense industry reason for worry, but his recent actions and emphasis on soldier-worn technologies have given defense company officials a sigh of relief. Read The Mil & Aero Blog online at

The liberal political positions of President-Elect Barack Obama had given plenty of those involved in the U.S. defense industry reason for worry, but some of Obama's early actions and rhetoric have given defense technology companies a sigh of relief.

Obama also has given defense industry experts reason to believe that soldier-worn technology will be more important during the Obama Administration than ever before.

Of particular interest to military electronics and aerospace electronics companies was Obama's naming of Defense Secretary Robert Gates to continue in that position when Obama takes office later this month. Gates was President George W. Bush's choice to be U.S. secretary of defense to replace former secretary Donald Rumsfeld, and Gates has a solid reputation as a friend of the defense industry.

"Obama's selection of Gates is a good sign that he is looking for consistency and stability in the transition," says Tom Arseneault, president of sensor systems at the BAE Systems Electronics & Integrated Solutions Operating Group in Nashua, N.H. "It gave us a bit of a sigh of relief."

Arseneault was nice enough to sit for an interview with me just before the holidays.

U.S. defense industry officials are taking Obama at his word that the new president will do his best to increase U.S. ground forces by 65,000 soldiers and 27,000 Marines.

With this in mind, defense industry experts anticipate that military technology trends in the near future will involve infantry soldiers and Marines more than ever before, and perhaps will not involve expansive new defense platforms like aircraft, ships, and tanks as much we have gotten used to.

Obama "wants to get as much mileage out of what we have as possible, and he will be emphasizing the soldier, rather than new, big platforms," Arseneault told me during an interview in his office last month.

This trend is likely to emphasize soldier systems like night-vision gun sights and goggles, wearable computers, networked voice and data communications, body armor with embedded electronic devices, soldier-carried unmanned aerial vehicles, and other remote sensors. "Much of the expense of equipping today's soldier is technology," Arseneault points out.

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