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US Congressmen predict more defence budget cut

US: On the last day of GEOINT 2011, the joint keynote from the US Congressmen Mike Rogers (R-Mich.) and C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger (D-Md.) addressed the future of intelligence community funding and the challenges facing the US. Analysing the current situation, they observed, “It is a case of the good, the not-so-good, and the possibly positively ugly.” The good was that for two years in a row the House passed a budget covering the 17 intelligence agencies, something that had been successfully done only once in the previous six years. The budgets for both FY 2011 and FY 2012 enjoyed bipartisan support, with over 384 yeas versus only, at most, 15 nays. The not-so-good is that the latest budget slashed spending by over a billion dollars. This was done, the Congressmen asserted, without impacting the mission of the intelligence community.

Stressing upon the possibly ugly future, they opined that such cuts may not be enough, given the reality of budget austerity in the years to come. “We shouldn’t take one step back in our ability to continue that advance,” Rogers said of future budgets. That is particularly true given growing threats from non-state actors and from foreign countries in the cyber realm and in space. China, for instance, has committed to a manned lunar landing by 2020 and has vaulted into one of the world’s leaders in supercomputers. Other countries are either peddling or trying to acquire nuclear weapons technology.

At the same time, some critical US capabilities are withering. For example, the domestic space industry confronts soaring launch costs, as well as imaging resolution and other technology restrictions. These are at least partly responsible for a decline of the American share of the worldwide commercial space market from 70 percent 20 years ago to just 27 percent today, said Ruppersberger. He noted that a revision to the ITAR technology restrictions passed the House and is awaiting action in the Senate. For a more general solution, Ruppersberger advocated shaking up established agency boundaries and engaging in some out-of-the-box thinking. One inexpensive way to revitalise the space programme, for example, would be to launch robots and explore the Moon and planets. That needs to be followed by manned missions, he said, but the remote approach would keep industry active and the public interested until that time.

That intelligent use of technology in other ways can help with the situation. Automating analysis as much as possible would save money, because technology is cheaper than people. Furthermore, finding other uses for some of the capabilities that have been developed can keep them from atrophying.

Ruppersberger noted that eventually combat operations will end. He also mentioned the traffic snarling American cities. Finally, he brought up the point that the old approach used to monitor road congestion may no longer be needed. As he said, “With the technology we have now, we don’t have to buy helicopters.”

Source: KMI Media Group