No matter which man wins the presidency, the Pentagon is going to keep taking that proverbial hill. But there are some areas in which a Romney administration would take the U.S. military down a path much different than the Obama administration would. Here are a few of our picks for the people and programs that might find themselves sitting pretty come Wednesday morning:
Military Reformers - President Obama and the Joint Chiefs of Staff spent much of last fall crafting a $525 billion defense budget for 2013 with unprecedented buy-in from the top brass. It shrinks the size and projected growth of the U.S. military over the next five years with their blessing. Defense officials say they were forced to meet the Budget Control Act's spending restrictions -- meaning they were given an excuse to do what they wanted to do anyway. It's no secret both the White House and many four-star generals, including the top Marine, Commandant Gen. James Amos, were hoping to direct a post-war reset. Others, like Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ray Odierno and recently retired Air Force Chief of Staff Norton Schwartz, said for months that the military should do its part toward helping alleviate total federal spending. An Obama victory keeps their five-year budget proposal and the national security strategy it funds alive.
Drones - While both candidates support the aggressive use of drones in
the war on terrorism, Obama already has a budget on the table that cuts
traditional forces and weapons, like big ships and some missile defenses, in
order to give more resources to smaller platforms. Specifically, Obama's
interest will likely spur the replacement of today's slow, propeller-driven
UAVs with stealthy, jet-powered drones that can survive against modern air
defenses. This means the Navy may move ahead with its contest for a stealthy,
carrier-launched attack drone under the Unmanned Carrier Launched Airborne
Surveillance and Strike (UCLASS) program. The Air Force will probably restart
its currently stalled plans to develop a new fleet of stealthy, jet-powered
UAVs to complement its RQ-170 Sentinel spy drones. General Atomics, Northrop Grumman, Boeing and Lockheed Martin
are all ready to compete for the contracts on both of these efforts. Oh, and
don't forget the new fleet of 80 to 100 long-range stealth bombers that the Air
Force is developing. Versions of this aircraft are designed to be "optionally
manned" -- i.e., remote-controlled.
Defense Industry Shareholders - Bear with us. Yes, Obama wants to stop the long-term yearly growth of defense spending while Romney wants to increase the Pentagon budget massively. But in the near term, the next president has to get Congress to move on sequester or the defense budget gets whacked. Obama surrogates feel that the president has leverage to break the deadlock if he wins and argue that Romney would enter with no footing on which to stand up to his own party, cementing the deadlock and making sequester that much more likely. "The fiscal cliff is much more likely to happen under Romney because he's not shown the backbone that I think we need," Rachel Kleinfeld of the left-leaning Truman National Security Project claimed. Maybe. But an Obama win does at least mean that negotiations can pick up wherever they left off. And watercooler wisdom suggests that a Romney win would force Congress to extend the sequestration deadline at the very least. So an Obama re-elect could mean a shorter glide path for a deal.
Blue Star Mothers - While the Obama campaign says the president will hew to the NATO-approved timeline to exit Afghanistan by the end of 2014, the White House gets to decide just how fast combat ends and how many U.S. troops will remain there in perpetuity. Judging by the comments of the candidates and their surrogates, a Romney presidency seems far likelier to extend a high troop-total in Afghanistan as long as possible. Romney also has repeatedly criticized Obama for not keeping U.S. troops in Iraq as a buffer for Iran. The same concern applies to post-war Afghanistan. By contrast, Obama's liberal base thinks the 2014 pullout is not fast enough, by an unbelievable margin of 98-2 percent. ISAF Commander Gen. John Allen's recommendations for the 2013-2014 troop lay-down is expected in Washington later this month, but don't expect a decision until after January. With green-on-blue attacks showing no sign of letting up, failing Afghan governance report cards pouring in, and the election behind him, the commander-in-chief could well decide to get more troops out sooner rather than later.