Defense Careers Outlook
In the decades following World War II, the defense industries were among the most important industries in the United States. Apart from the international prestige to be gained by winning the space race, the ongoing threat presented by the Cold War between the United States and the Soviet Union required that a large proportion of the nation’s energies and resources be devoted to improving our defense capabilities. Defense contractors could be assured of billions of dollars of new contracts each year; interest in space travel and research was also high.
The collapse of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War in the late 1980s and early 1990s created a new reality for defense industries. The immediate threat to national security disappeared, and with it, the need for high levels of spending. Military bases were closed, and the number of military personnel on active duty was reduced. At the same time, other factors combined to depress the industry. After the Challenger disaster of 1986, the space program entered a decline. Decisions were made to reduce the reliance on the space shuttle through the 1990s, and NASA’s budget was cut. A second space shuttle disaster occurred in 2003 when the Columbia disintegrated in mid-air while reentering the Earth’s atmosphere. This disaster led to slight increases in NASA’s budget.
In the late 1990s, changes in the political climate of the world fueled new developments for high-technology companies and the space program. In 1999, the government allocated $6.6 billion to build missiles, radar, and other components of a national missile defense system. Concern over the threat posed by missile attacks from countries like North Korea prompted renewed interest in a way to defend the United States from the weapons of mass destruction that missiles could deliver.
The terrorist activity on U.S. soil in September 2001 instigated immediate defense operations against physical, chemical, and biological threats, cyberattacks, and missile threats. In the past, defense systems were targeted at specific countries or groups, but today they are concentrated more on the threats themselves, according to the Quadrennial Defense Review released to Congress on September 30, 2001. The review stated that the size of the military will remain about the same, but portions will be reconfigured to combat unconventional, unpredictable threats. The Defense Appropriations Bill for fiscal year 2005 provided $355.4 billion in new discretionary spending authority for the Department of Defense, $38.2 billion more than was made available for 2001. The budget included spending for weapons; aircraft; shipbuilding; ballistic missile defense; intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance, military personnel pay raises and medical programs; troop readiness and sustainment programs; and other programs.
Employment in the aerospace industry has been in steady decline since the early 1990s. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, aerospace manufacturing provided more than 444,000 wage and salary jobs in 2004. The renewed military spending could mean more opportunities for engineers and production workers.
Careers in Defense:
- Aeronautical and Aerospace Technicians
- Aerospace Engineers
- Border Patrol Officers
- Cryptographic Technicians
- Customs Officials
- Military Workers
Related Career Fields:
For More Information:
- Aerospace Industries Association of America (AIA)
- American Society for Engineering Education (ASEE)
- National Society of Professional Engineers (NSPE)
- U.S. Department of Defense