The future of big military programmes in the US, a new "made in Italy" armoured vehicle and why the Argentinians are snapping up American Humvees.
Italy has bought the last piece in the drone puzzle: a training simulator. When Canadian giant CAE delivers the bespoke Predator drone simulator next year, Italy will own the full spectrum for remote-flight capability.
This was supposed to be the year that the US finally returned to collecting the “peace dividend” promised after the Cold War (and quickly squandered through George W Bush’s reckless adventurousness). By the end of 2014, the US is scheduled to end its combat mission in Afghanistan, three years after the country’s final troops retreated across the Iraqi border into Kuwait. The army would continue its plan to shed nearly one fifth of the personnel it had on payroll while waging two wars. A more humble foreign policy would follow thanks to economic imperatives: “sequestration” cuts would further shrink the country’s defence budget by about 10 per cent.
After an era of nation building abroad, a shrunken mission would finally allow the Pentagon to get its own increasingly messy house in order. Evidence of low morale is ubiquitous, from suicides on military bases to an exam-cheating scandal implicating dozens of air force officers responsible for overseeing the country’s nuclear arsenal. On Capitol Hill, female senators have been pushing to do something about the high rate of sexual assault in the military by moving allegations into legal channels instead of having them handled by the military chain of command. Along with the rather uneventful integration of openly gay soldiers, this could all usher in a period of unanticipated social reform for one of the country’s most conservative institutions.
Barack Obama decided on Chuck Hagel as his second-term defence secretary largely because the Republican would be uniquely qualified to preside over this transition and sell a narrower mission to sceptical constituencies. A former senator, Hagel would be able to navigate congressional anxiety over military austerity. Meanwhile, as a decorated combat veteran who had enlisted during Vietnam, he would be able to credibly sell those social reforms and the transition to a peacetime institution. “Our troops,” Obama said in unveiling his nominee last year, “see one of their own.”
But the year hasn’t started the way the White House anticipated. An unexpected compromise budget passed Congress in January that will undo the sequestration cuts to defence. (In Washington, a compromise usually qualifies as members of both parties accepting a deal to buy off both sides with new spending.) With $32bn (€23bn) in funding restored, the pressure came off Pentagon accountants to make painful cuts – and off Hagel to defend them. The Littoral Combat Ship and F-35 Joint Strike Fighter are finding their way back onto the drawing board, the latter on track to be the costliest weapon system in US history.
The weapons that are most likely to capture the US imagination over the next few years will not be the ones that modernise the old ways of war but the ones that replace them entirely. Amid a broad reconsideration of the post-September 11 security state triggered by Edward Snowden’s moves, the White House has thus far parried the legal and political challenges to its use of drones. But Americans have yet to fully comprehend what such combat means for the country that wages it. With soldiers killing abroad but sleeping in their own beds at home, the peace dividend might not include peace of mind. The Pentagon may well end 2014 with fewer boots on the ground but more dress shoes up on the couch.
Three big-ticket Pentagon programmes with uncertain futures in 2014:
- Strike Fighter
The new Lockheed Martin jets would aid the air force, marines and navy.
- KC-46 tanker
Boeing’s 767-based model to replace the air force’s ageing refuellers.
- Littoral combat ship
A navy fleet of small hi-tech ships able to move quickly in shallow water.
Bolzano-based defence firm Consorzio Iveco-Fiat Oto Melara is putting the final touches to a lightweight Italian take on heavy armour that could provide an alternative to expensive main battle tanks.
MBTs (pictured), as they are known, are used in Afghanistan by Denmark and Canada. As well as the high costs associated with building them, they need to be deployed by ship and delivered into warzones on the back of trucks. The new Centauro 2 takes the 120mm gun found on MBTs and places it on a vehicle less than half the weight.
Two prototypes are due to roll out for trials imminently, with the first production vehicles due in 2018.