Quick Hits

By Dan Dupont / October 14, 2008 at 5:00 AM

Whether the economic downturn will hit defense spending remains a theme out there, with a couple of new stories of note to tell you about.

The first is from The Washington Post, which sent someone to the Association of the U.S. Army's convention last week to ask around:

"There's a lot of uncertainty out there," said Kevin G. Kroger, president of Pura Dyn, a small Boynton Beach, Fla., company, who came to the trade show to pitch the Army on buying more of its oil filters for armored trucks. "We're not sure where the budgets are going and what's going to get funded. It leaves us nervous."

Indeed, in his report on the show, Ron Epstein, an analyst at Merrill Lynch, said vendors acknowledged their worries about the rescue plan. "We expect the bailout plan will put downward pressure on defense spending," Epstein had written a week earlier in a research note to clients.

Although no one is expecting a dramatic drop in next year's Pentagon budget, there is a widespread expectation that spending will begin to level off. Many contractors have begun to prepare.

With nearly 60 percent of its $42 billion in annual sales coming from the Defense Department, Lockheed Martin is pursuing other areas of business to compensate for any slowdown in defense spending. For the past eight years, the Bethesda company has tried to expand its information technology services business. Already, it expects double-digit sales growth in that unit this year compared with last year.

And then we have a look from late last week penned by Cox News Service, which uses the financial meltdown as a springboard to examine the specifics on the Obama and McCain plans for defense:

"It's likely to have some negative impact on defense spending, but it's hard to say how much," said Steven Kosiak, vice president for budget studies with the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, a non-partisan Washington think tank.

Neither Sen. John McCain, the Republican presidential candidate, nor his Democratic rival, Sen. Barack Obama, has provided a basic defense spending blueprint, never mind a list of options for adjusting to the government's deteriorating fiscal outlook.

"There's not a lot of detail in terms of what they're thinking about overall defense spending levels," said Kosiak. Beyond that, "things can change pretty quickly if the international environment changes."

Finally, The Los Angeles Times recently ran a piece titled "Pentagon divided over John McCain" that's worth a read, though it's not likely to surprise any of our readers.