The new Defense Department

The coming years for the military might likely point to a greater dependence on unmanned systems, a reliance on Special Operations and quick-reaction forces, and better situational awareness and networking for the fewer number of troops on the ground.

Barring any significant China-countering military incursions in the Pacific or Iran-containing actions in the Persian Gulf (an admittedly big if), the coming years for the military will likely point to a greater dependence on unmanned systems, a reliance on Special Operations and quick-reaction forces, and better situational awareness and networking for the fewer number of troops on the ground.

In fact, the military strategy during the second term of President Barack Obama will look increasing like what Vice President Joe Biden wanted it to look like in the first time; namely, fewer boots on the ground and a greater reliance on C4ISR, defense IT and cyber.

Moving up the timetable to start bringing home troops from Afghanistan and turning over the security mission to the Afghan army beginning this spring instead of in 2014 is one, clear indicator of this shift in strategy. Another is the nomination of Chuck Hagel for defense secretary, who will likely wield the scalpel necessary for budget cutting, as opposed to the hammer necessary for waging war.

“The Long War” is what officials in the Bush Administration called the global war on terror, and while the long war is coming to a conclusion in Afghanistan, another continues to put miles on the odometer. That would be the continuing war on Al Qaeda and its offshoots, organizations that we thought we had effectively tamped down but have shown they still have fight, most recently in the embassy attack in Benghazi, Libya, and in Mali in west-central Africa, when French troops are taking the lead.

So what does this mean for the future of our military? First, a reliance on manned and unmanned surveillance platforms will continue to grow. Remember the Army’s Enhanced Medium Altitude Reconnaissance and Surveillance System (EMARSS)? In late 2001, the Army said it was cancelling the $500 million program. Guess what? Under the Army Aviation Modernization Plan 2012 it’s back, with intent to procure 48 of the manned, twin-engine-turboprop platforms.

Second, mobility is here to stay. And I don’t mean shoot, move and communicate. I’m talking about the use of mobile devices such as smart phones and tablets for improved situational awareness. It’s only a matter of time before military service uniforms include a pocket specially designed for smart phones.

And third, doing more with less is an imperative. That saying has become almost a cliché, but that doesn’t make it any less true. The exquisite solution can no longer be the end state in product or capability development. The 80-percent solution is how most of us live our lives anyway, and it will increasingly apply to the military, too.

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