If the Frankenstein monster was tasked with analyzing the world’s Defense budgets, he would pour over mountains of paperwork and then in his famously concise manner, utter the following: “Robots Good. People Bad.”
The monster’s short summary can be supported by looking at two different kinds of Defense budgets, those that are increasing and those that are shrinking.
In spite of what you may have heard about Secretary Gates’ highly publicized “efficiencies,” the US Defense budget, in real terms, is increasing. The President will ask for a $553 million for the non-war 2012 allocation, a 5% increase over the 2011 budget (Market Watch U.S. budget spat worries military contractors). This is after a 2011 budget request that was 2.4% larger than the previous year (Center of Strategic and Budgetary Assessments Analysis of the FY 2011 Defense Budget)
Secretary Gates’ “efficiencies” means that the Pentagon will spend $78 billion less than it had previously planned in some programs, and the savings will be switched to other areas (Wired Budget Battles: Did Gates “Cut” Defense Cash?)
Of course, other programs have gained and been cut as well, but the trend is unmistakable. Increased funding for expanding unmanned systems in growing Defense budgets is no surprise as evidenced by the military expenditures in Russia, India, and China. But what about Defense budgets that are shrinking?
Europe is one of the few places in the world where military budgets are decreasing. Military spending by European nations in NATO has shrunk by $45 billion dollars, a figure equivalent to Germany’s entire annual Defense budget (Financial Times, Nato chief warns Europe over defence budgets).
What’s being cut? Actually, all sorts of things, but if you said people, you would be correct. Britain alone will cut its civilian Defense staff by 25,000, Army forces by 7,000 soldiers, and 5,000 people each from the Royal Air Force and the Navy (Market Watch, Britain to cut defense budget by 8%).
This is part of a long-term trend. As reported in Defense IQ’s excellent “The Real Reasons Behind Europe’s Diminishing Force Numbers,” European militaries had between 3 and 3.5 million personnel at the end of the Cold War. Today, it’s about 2 million. Between 2006 and 2008, the number of troops declined by 190,452.
Are there any areas where European budgets are increasing? There are two: Equipment (especially net-centric kits) and — you guessed it — robots. The European Defense Agency estimates that purchases of small and tactical scale UAVs will surpass 500 units per year by 2015. England plans to double the number of its Reapers.
If in both growing and shrinking budgets, funding for unmanned systems is increasing, while personnel numbers are being slashed, what can we learn? One, it’s a good time to be selling robots instead of combat boots (unless the boots are net-enabled with MESH capabilities for sharing data in real-time across multiple platforms). Two, despite the projected US withdrawals from Iraq and Afghanistan, there’s a real possibility that there will be no decrease in the demand for unmanned systems.
Even in peace time, the military robot population explosion will continue.