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Cyber and space systems top Defense tech priorities

Despite plans to cut $487 billion from its budget over the next decade, the Pentagon will continue to make investments in systems that will allow the United States to maintain a technological edge, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta told reporters Thursday.

The 2013 Defense budget, which will be released next month, will include increased investments in cyber technology and space systems, Panetta said, echoing comments he made when the Pentagon released a new strategy earlier this month.

Today Panetta said Defense needs to "leap ahead to defeat the enemy" across many domains, including space and cyberspace. He added that Defense managers need to make better use of information technology systems as part of a process to cut $60 billion from the department's overhead costs.

The top-line "Defense Budget Priorities and Choices" paper released by the Pentagon "highlights the increasing importance of cyber operations. As a result, cyber is one of the few areas in which we actually increased our investments, including in both defensive and offensive capabilities."

Deputy Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter declined to specify detailed funding details until the President releases the budget Feb. 13. Nextgov reported in March 2011 that the Pentagon's cybersecurity budget is ultimately hard to pin down, although officials pegged 2012 funding at $3.2 billion.

Space systems slated for an unspecified budget boost in 2013 include the Global Positioning System, the Space-Based Infrared System and the Advanced Extremely High Frequency satellite programs. The 2012 National Defense Authorization Act provided $514 million in funding for GPS, $3.1 billion for AEHF and $621.6 million for SBIRS.

The Pentagon also put a priority on and increased funding for upgrades to the Integrated Disability Evaluation System, a joint program with the Veterans Affairs Department to speed up military discharges. Veterans blasted the system as slow and unresponsive at a Senate Veterans Affairs Committee hearing in July 2011.

The 2013 budget request also includes cancellation of the Air Force Global Hawk unmanned surveillance aircraft program, as Nextgov reported yesterday. The Air Force wanted to use the Northrop Grumman Global Hawk as an inexpensive alternative to manned U-2 aircraft, but Carter said the unmanned aircraft ended up being more expensive than the manned U-2s. The Air Force will operate a fleet of 21 Global Hawks once aircraft in the production pipeline are delivered.

The Pentagon also canceled another Northrop Grumman project, the Defense Weather Satellite System as "premature to need."

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