Defense

Obama win means continued technology focus at the Pentagon

President Barack Obama speaks during a news briefing at the Pentagon.

President Barack Obama speaks during a news briefing at the Pentagon. // Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP

Defense Department cyber, space and network systems will help anchor development of leaner and more agile forces powered by technology during the next four years if President Obama sticks to Pentagon plans unveiled early this year and follows his campaign rhetoric with action.

The Priorities for 21st Century Defense strategy the White House released Jan. 5 emphasized that “modern armed forces cannot conduct high-temp, effective operations without reliable information and communication networks, and assured access to cyberspace and space.”

During a Pentagon press briefing on that strategy, Obama emphasized the need to develop "smart, strategic priorities” and specifically called for enhanced intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance systems.

Obama backed up this approach in a debate with rival Mitt Romney, in which he said the focus on military power should not be on sheer numbers. “And so the question is not a game of ‘Battleship,’ where we’re counting ships . . . It’s ‘what are our capabilities.’ ”

The Pentagon followed the strategy document with a new concept of operations released Jan. 17, which reinforced the importance of space and cyberspace to military actions. The new joint operational access concept said the Pentagon must maintain superiority in space and cyberspace operations and preserve unfettered access to electronic spectrum.

The focus on networks, systems and cyberspace requires a vast and expensive computing infrastructure and complex software programs that take years to develop. The Pentagon started what could be a tectonic shift in that infrastructure with the release of its mobile device strategy in June, which eventually could replace computers with smartphones and tablets with applications developed in weeks or months rather than years.

The focus on mobile devices and apps will continue without much tinkering from the top as it fits in well with Obama’s focus on smart, lean forces.

A second Obama term also means continuity for the Veterans Affairs Department, which has struggled to adapt to the end of the war in Iraq and the drawdown of forces in Afghanistan. As more troops leave the military and seek benefits from VA, the department’s overloaded claims system will be further stressed.

VA’s claims backlog has hovered around 900,000  this year as officials struggle to handle new claims that have accrued at the annual rate of more than a million for the past several years. VA Secretary Eric Shinseki has vowed repeatedly to eliminate the claims backlog with an electronic claims processing system by 2015 -- a promise that if not kept will ultimately reflect on President Obama.

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