Military technology research and development set to continue three-year decline in 2013

WASHINGTON, 21 Feb. 2012. The U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) budget for research, development, test, and evaluation (RDT&E) would continue its decline next year if Congress approves the DOD's fiscal 2013 request for $69.65 billion for military-related research. Next year's Pentagon RDT&E request is down nearly 14 percent from recent-year peak spending of $80.92 billion in 2010, according to 2013 DOD budget documents.

Over the past seven annual federal budget cycles, the DOD research budget saw steady increases from 2007 to 2010, and then began a sharp decline, as the accompanying graphic shows. DOD research spending fell to $76.13 billion in 2011, to $72.84 billion this year, and would drop further to a seven-year low of $69.65 billion in fiscal 2013, which begins next Oct. 1.

The Pentagon's RDT&E budget is the nation's well spring of military technology development. It is the source of funding for enabling technologies that are key to a wide variety of new and emerging military applications, ranging from advanced avionics, network-centric warfare, unmanned vehicles, ballistic missile defense, to laser weapons, locating improvised explosive devices (IEDs), and strategic computing.

Cutting the military RDT&E budget, as the Pentagon has been doing will force technology developers to make some hard decisions, because not all of the research and development initiatives begun over the past several years can remain high priorities.

At best, a continued downward trend in U.S. military research spending will provide incentive for defense officials to sharpen their pencils, cut the dead wood, and redefine their highest military technology priorities for the years to come, based on promoting the most promising emerging technologies and either abandoning or cutting back on projects with low potential.

At worst, however, an ongoing decline in military research spending threatens vital technology development initiatives at a moment in time when the U.S. military is in transition from a Post World War II Cold-War footing to a very uncertain future involving threats from radical Islamic regimes in the Middle East, to economically dominant China that is flexing its military muscle around the world, to a resurgent Russia eager to reassert its military prowess.

Without a very shrewd husbanding of dwindling military RDT&E resources over the next several years, the entire U.S. military establishment risks a long-term decline at a time when European economic stability is in doubt, when Iran shortly will develop its own nuclear weapons arsenal, and when easy-to-reach global energy supplies are shrinking and in ever-increasing demand.

Need for RDT&E

Some experts had believed that the Pentagon's research budget might see a resurgence in 2013, as the financial demands of long-term military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan eased as those conflicts begin winding up.

For a decade the Pentagon had to bear the expense of maintaining troops in the field deployed in active military operations. Troops had to be fed, clothed, and equipped, vehicles and aircraft had to be maintained and fueled, and a communications had to be installed overseas to keep touch with those on the front lines.

At the same time, military vehicles and equipment wore out, demand rose for new technologies to meet quickly changing threats like IEDs. For that 10 years, caring for deployed troops TODAY was the priority, and military needs of tomorrow took a back seat.

Now that troops deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan are starting to come home, 2013 seemed like the best opportunity in a long time to replenish research and development accounts as the Pentagon turned its gaze from today's conflicts to tomorrow's military challenges. Still, it was not to be, overall, but the 2013 DOD RDT&E budget does have some bright spots.

RDT&E budget details

The U.S. Army's research budget would grow by 2.2 percent in 2013 to $8.95 billion from 2012 levels of $8.76 billion, dominated by research and development in manned ground vehicles. The Army next year plans to spend $639.87 million developing manned ground vehicles, which is up 42.6 percent from current-year levels of $448.68 million.

In fiscal 2013 the Army also plans to spend $280.25 million on aircraft modifications and improvements; 278.02 million on demonstration and validation of the Warfighter Information Network-Tactical (WIN-T); 277.37 million developing the Army Integrated Air and Missile Defense (AIAMD) system; and $253.96 million on combat vehicle improvement programs.

After the Army, however, all the other military services and defense agencies collectively will see declines in their research and development budgets.

The U.S. Air Force, which always enjoys the largest research and development budget in the Pentagon, will see its RDT&E spending cut by 4.7 percent to $25.48 billion in 2013, compared with current-year levels of $26.74 billion. The largest Air Force RDT&E program -- which can be named -- on tap for next year is a $1.82 billion initiative to develop the next-generation aerial refueling aircraft.

Other Air Force research programs planned for 2013 include $1.21 billion for full-scale development of the Lockheed Martin F-35 joint strike fighter; $448.59 million for full-scale development of the Space Based Infrared System (SBIRS) High ballistic missile detection system; $371.7 million for F-22A jet fighter research; and $371.6 million to develop the operational control segment of the Global Positioning System III satellite navigation system.

Some of the Pentagon's research and development programs cannot be named because they involve secret technologies. The Air Force, in fact, controls the largest line-item in the 2013 DOD budget -- $11.23 billion. This budget line is simply named classified programs. Defense agencies control the second-largest RDT&E line-item -- $3.86 billion -- also for classified programs.

The U.S. Navy will see its research and development budget cut by 4.8 percent to $16.94 billion in 2013, compared with current-year levels of $17.79 billion. The largest Navy research project planned for next year is contained in two programs totaling $1.48 billion -- one for $743.93 million and the other for $737.15 million -- for full-scale development of the carrier-based version of the F-35 joint strike fighter.

Other large Navy research and development programs on tap for next year include a 657.48 million program to develop the RQ-4 Broad Area Maritime Surveillance System (BAMS), a version of the Northrop Grumman Global Hawk unmanned aerial vehicle designed for long-range, high-endurance ocean surveillance.

Other Navy RDT&E efforts for 2013 include $606.2 million for CH-53K heavy-lift helicopter research; $555.12 million for advanced submarine system development; $510 million for a classified "black" research program called CHALK EAGLE; and $429.42 million for advanced development of the Littoral Combat Ship (LCS).

Defense agencies, such as the Missile Defense Agency (MDA) and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) collectively are asking for $18.1 billion in 2013, which is down 6.5 percent from current-year levels of $19.36 billion. The largest namable project in the defense agencies' budget next year is $992.41 million to develop the Aegis sea-based ballistic missile defense system.

Other defense agencies research planned for next year includes $392.42 million for applied research in information and communications technology at DARPA; $275 million for counter-proliferation initiatives at the Defense Threat Reduction Agency; and $234.28 million for advanced development of chemical and biological defense technologies.

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