The strategy for reading tea leaves of the year to come is naturally anchored in the lasting events of the year just passed.
So then let us consider 2019. The year was, in many respects, one of messiness. The already tense relationship between Turkey and NATO allies got worse, leading to the decision by the U.S. to kick the country out of the F-35 program. High-profile program struggles plagued some of the largest defense companies in the world. Political turmoil led to leadership shakeups both in the U.S. and across the pond. Instability in the industrial base made advancements in technology by adversaries all the more troubling.
But there were also some signs of progress. Modern warfare capabilities — from hypersonics to artificial intelligence — transitioned from a footnote for only some to the everyday vernacular of most. More experimentation emerged in techniques for system development and acquisition. And around the world, countries from various regions grew more earnest in their desires to expand their influence and investment in global defense.
What can we predict, then, based upon this, for 2020? Global relations will continue to shift, no longer defined by existing alliances but rather by individual behavior and more self-serving demands. Elections stand to turn the current state of political affairs on its ear, whether it be for better or for worse. And competition will grow more fierce, driven by a shrinking industrial base and the fact that defense companies will need to look beyond the U.S. to find the most sought-after programs with the biggest potential payout.
Obviously, there is a lot we don’t know. Will NATO flounder or regain its footing? Will election results drive allies closer together or farther apart? Will defense budgets go up or down? And will the increasing use of hybrid tactics reshape both the forces of today and the systems of tomorrow?
We asked leaders from around the world to provide their perspective. See what’s on their minds here in Outlook 2020.