Analysts: Manufacturers of F-35, ships, subs should win under Obama plan

President Obama’s new defense strategy should be good news for the makers of fighter jets like the F-35 and Navy ships and submarines, according to analysts.

Defense analysts have begun closely parsing the sweeping new plan, which was released Thursday when Obama made the first visit to the Pentagon briefing room by a sitting U.S. president.

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The new plan is something of a departure for the Pentagon, as it casts aside the planning premise that the military be capable of fighting two simultaneous large land wars. It also calls for a smaller Army and Marine Corps.

The plan envisions a more “widely” dispersed fight against al Qaeda, and vows to buy the weapons necessary to counter Iran and China militarily. On the latter, the plan describes a shift of U.S. foreign and national security policy from the Middle East to Asia, where U.S. officials believe much of the 21st century’s history will be written.

Obama’s plan was crafted with what senior Pentagon officials called an “unprecedented” amount of collaboration between the White House — including the president himself — and military officials.

Officials have used words like “leaner” and “agile” to describe the kind of military they intend to build. In fact, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said the envisioned force’s “greatest strength” is that it would be “more agile, flexible, ready to deploy, innovative and technologically advanced.”

While officials say details on what programs and how many troops will be cut to meet Obama’s vision for the military will come in the next budget plan, defense analysts are starting to weigh in early.

“At first blush, a pivot to the … Pacific seems like good news for makers of warships and aircraft, bad news for makers of armored vehicles and helicopters,” said Loren Thompson of the Lexington Institute, an industry consultant.

That should be welcome news for firms like General Dynamics and Huntington Ingalls Industries, which make submarines and surface ships for the Navy.

The strategy also seems to suggest the troubled F-35 fighter program will remain mostly intact. Three models of the jet, made by Lockheed Martin, are being developed for the Air Force, Navy and Marines, as well as more than 10 U.S. allies.

The shift to the Pacific, including the Chinese military threat, means fielding plenty of the advanced fighter — and selling hundreds to allies in that region — will be a key enabler of Obama’s Pacific plans, analysts said.

Jim McAleese, who operates a defense-aerospace consultancy, placed the F-35 under the “favors” category in a chart he crafted showing his take on winners and losers under the new strategy.

Thompson said the most likely outcome for the F-35 under Obama’s plan is a “slower production ramp, but [a] secure future.”

The strategy’s mention of buying weapons to deal with adversaries’ electronic and cyber warfare systems, as well as sophisticated missile systems, means the F-35’s stealth and other performance metrics should help it avoid big cuts, McAleese wrote.

Developing and buying bomber aircraft appears an Obama priority, and that is good news for firms like Boeing, Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman. All have expressed interest in eventually seeking what stands to be a multibillion-dollar contract.

The strategy talks of addressing “emerging threats” and taking the fight to al Qaeda in a “wider” number of nations — that will be good news for top-secret “black programs” and mean a further expansion of America’s special operations forces, according to McAleese.

“Northrop Grumman's Global Hawk high-end surveillance drone would seem to be another vital part of the Pacific mix, given its unique combination of payload and range,” Thompson said.

The strategy also states the military will soon shed parts of its ground forces best-suited for the kinds of stability operations that it has been waging in Iraq and Afghanistan for a decade.

That should leave the makers of large combat trucks firmly in the loser category, according to McAleese. It also should mean fewer Abrams tanks, Bradley Fighting Vehicles and the new Ground Combat Vehicle, meaning GD, BAE Systems and other combat vehicle manufacturers could take a hit, McAleese said.

Analysts also have been quick to note that the strategy’s intention to keep a robust presence in the Middle East will mean more U.S. war plane sales to allies there as a hedge against Iran’s aggression.