The future drop in defense spending should not deter small businesses and innovators from putting forward new ideas, a top U.S. Navy official said June 6, and the coming changes could, in fact, provide opportunities.
"It is going to be tough over the next couple of years to get this right," Under Secretary Bob Work said of the defense cuts. "We're going to have many more impediments than defense planners have had in the past."
Among those challenges, he said, is that the military will still be engaged in the war on terror even as those cuts are made.
"Although it is a challenging time, for small business I see a lot of opportunity," Work told a luncheon audience at the Navy Opportunity Forum held just outside Washington.
"There'll be a period of turbulence, without a doubt," he said. "But no matter what, we're going to have to rely on the small business community in ways we've never relied on them in the past, because we're going to have to really do things less expensively."
The annual Navy forum brings together small business technology innovators with Pentagon program managers and industrial prime contractors. Those in attendance include a large number of small businesses - companies with only a dozen or so employees are common - who have completed the initial stages of bringing forward new technologies and are looking to take their ideas to the next level.
"It's a very good time to be a small business innovator," Work said. "We want to capitalize on your ability for quick adaptation."
Work acknowledged the challenges of cutting spending while continuing to meet military commitments around the world. Speaking afterward to reporters, he outlined the way ahead, starting with a major Pentagon effort now underway to determine where cuts can be made.
"The Comprehensive Strategy Review is a pre-Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR)," he said, referring to the study conducted every four years that underpins the country's military requirements and strategies.
"We're going to do another full-up QDR in 2013 regardless of the administration" elected in 2012, Work said. "At that point, we will really start to make the final decisions."
The Comprehensive Strategy Review will "try and make the case on what we think the strategy will [be] over time, 2017 and beyond," he said.
The review will also enable the White House to come up with an amount for the annual defense budget this fall.
"The way [outgoing Defense Secretary Robert Gates] has described it is: We're going to be given a number in 2012 that is largely driven by politics," Work explained. "We're going to be given a number in '13 that is probably driven by math. And by '14 and out, it's going to be driven by strategy.
"So what we want to know is, let's make sure that when we start making procurement decisions in '12 and '13, they support what we think we're headed towards," he said.
Work declined to provide any specifics about what programs might be cut.
"Every single program is on the table," he declared. "The fact that we're not talking about anything right now is because the Comprehensive Strategy Review hasn't been completed and we don't have our final top-line numbers.
"Anything I would tell you about a program would be just pure guessing," he continued.
The Navy Opportunity Forum continues through Tuesday and Wednesday in Crystal City, Va.