As defense companies search for segments of the military market that may be insulated from a downturn in defense spending, one area that has been heavily favored is intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance — widely referred to in the business as ISR. The thinking of corporate planners and analysts seems to be that the price of peace is eternal vigilance, and therefore spending on items like surveillance drones and data fusion software will remain strong even as outlays for other military equipment is trending down.
Well don’t count on it. Jason Sherman reported at InsideDefense.com yesterday that a nine-month audit of ISR assets by the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence is recommending cuts to “redundant” capabilities and disbanding of the Pentagon task force that has driven much of the ISR spending over the last four years. The report contains an eye-popping statistic: the joint fleet of ISR aircraft has increased from 167 airframes in 2002 to 7,500 today. Many of the new aircraft have only appeared on the scene recently, which explains why there are three times as many of them in Afghanistan today as there were in Iraq at the height of the campaign there.
The congressional committee’s audit seems to indicate that’s too many, or at least it soon will be, and therefore proposes rationalizing ISR investment plans to save money. That could be bad news for the many smaller companies that have been relying on a few contracts to sustain what they hope will one day be a much bigger product line and market footprint. Systems that are versatile and deeply rooted in the operational community like the U-2 Dragon Lady may remain in the joint fleet for decades to come, but a lot of the newer ISR efforts are likely to fall by the wayside as the focus of U.S. military strategy shifts to offshore presence in places like the Western Pacific.
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