A closer look at the military's research budget

Military research spending may be increasing substantially next year, and in ways that should have the most immediate influence on the ability of U.S. fighting forces to carry out a war.

Mar 1st, 2003

By John Keller, chief editor
Military & Aerospace Electronics

Military research spending may be increasing substantially next year, and in ways that should have the most immediate influence on the ability of U.S. fighting forces to carry out a war. Much of this budget concerns electronics and opto-electronics development.

Leaders of the U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) are proposing nearly an 8.4 percent increase in the Pentagon's research, development, test, and evaluation (RDT&E) budget, especially for so-called "system development and demonstration" accounts, which are in place to prove the worth of weapons and support equipment, and to make new systems and technologies ready for military deployment.

Overall, the Pentagon is asking for $61.8 billion for research and development in the 2004 fiscal year that begins Oct. 1, which represents an 8.4 percent increase from the $57 billion that defense researchers received this year. For fiscal year 2005 the Pentagon seeks to increase research spending once again to $67.1 billion. These budget proposals are subject to congressional approval.

The way DOD leaders would spend this money tells almost as much about their commitment to long-term health of U.S. military forces as do the dollar figures themselves.

Pentagon planners divide research and development money overall into seven different accounts, which range from the most general kinds of technological research to the most specific research as it applies to individual weapons and support systems. The categories are basic research, applied research, advanced technology development, advanced component development and prototypes, system development and demonstration, RDT&E management support, and operational systems development. Basic research is the most general, while operational systems development is the most specific.

The first three — basic research, applied research, and advanced technology development — are the so-called "technology base" programs, which are to develop the technology building blocks on which the most advanced deployed systems depend. Next year's budget would decrease all but one of these programs. Only advanced technology development would see an increase DOD wide, and by slightly less than 4 percent.

Yet requests for two of the advanced research programs — advanced component development and prototypes and system development and demonstration — are up substantially. The request next year for advanced component development and prototypes is almost $13.2 billion, up by 22.7 percent over this year's allocation, and the request for system development and demonstration is $15.9 billion, up by 15.8 percent.

These funding trends clearly suggest that military planners are far less interested in developing new general defense technologies than they are in using technology that is already available, and to use this available technology to prototype integrated systems that may have the greatest and most immediate use on the 21st century battlefield — particularly in the international war on terrorism.

By service, DOD officials are asking for the largest increase in research money for the U.S. Army, which would receive $9.1 billion next year, a 21.1 percent increase over the $7.5 billion the Army is receiving this year.

Next in line is the U.S. Air Force, which would receive $20.3 billion next year, an 9.6 percent increase over the $18.6 billion the service is receiving this year. The combined non-service defense agencies, such as the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) and the Missile Defense Agency (MDA), would receive a combined $18 billion next year, a 5.3 percent increase over $17.1 billion this year. Finally, the U.S. Navy would receive $14.2 billion next year, up 3.5 percent from $13.6 billion this year.

Army research

Among the notable items in the Army's budget request is electronic warfare —advanced technology, for which the Army would receive $40.3 million next year — a noticeable 49.8 percent increase over the $26.9 percent received for the program this year.

This line item in the Army budget concerns distributed, mobile, secure, self-organization communications networks, in which researchers make use of commercial communications technologies wherever possible. Other areas of emphasis include the so-called Multifunction On-the-Move (OTH) Secure Adaptive Integrated Communications (MOSAIC) advanced technology demonstration, smart networking technologies, and advanced antenna technologies for future systems such as the Joint Tactical Radio System.

The Army's share of the Common Missile program would receive a hefty boost next year. This program, which would provide an ground-to-ground and air-to-ground missile for the future RAH-66 Comanche scout-attack helicopter, the Future Combat System, AH-64 Apache attack helicopter, and the M2A3 Bradley Fighting Vehicle, would receive $183.8 million next year — up more than six times the $28.6 million the program receives this year.

Army officials call the Common Missile — a next-generation replacement for the Hellfire and TOW missiles — to be a "must-fund" program and a key to the Army's transformation effort. This missile would have embedded diagnostics and controllable-thrust propulsion,

This missile also would have a tri-mode seeker consisting of a semi-active laser, millimeter wave radar, and focal plane array radar. The missile, which is to destroy high-value targets at standoff ranges, is to be six inches in diameter, about four feet long, and weigh about 70 pounds.

Also a big winner in the Army's research budget request is an engineering and manufacturing development program for the Advanced Precision Kill Weapons System — otherwise known as the APKWS — and the Mortar Fire Control System, or MFCS. This program requests $129.4 million next year, up from $50.3 million this year.

The APKWS is to be a laser-guided 2.75-inch munition on the AH-64, OH-58, and RAH-66 battle helicopters. Pentagon documents say this system "is expected to provide at least four times the number of kills, thereby substantially reduce collateral damage, and significantly reducing cost because fewer rockets are required."

The MFCS, meanwhile, seeks to seamlessly link mortar fares on the future digital battlefield. This program also seeks to develop the Precision Guided Mortar Munition, a 120mm laser-guided infantry weapon that has deployable fins for in-flight corrections, and can scan the battlefield for designated targets.

Navy research

Among the U.S. Navy's research priorities next year is the Surface Ship Torpedo Defense program, which would receive $48.3 million, or more than three times the $14.3 million the program receives this year.

This program is a collaborative effort with the United Kingdom to develop future technologies such as the mobile expendable acoustic decoy, other countermeasures, improved torpedo detection, classification, and localization, as well as improving the AN/SLQ-25A in shallow water.

The AN/SLQ-25 is a passive, electro-acoustic decoy system designed to fool acoustic homing torpedoes. It uses a towed underwater acoustic projector that uses an onboard-generated signal to produce an acoustic signal to decoy the hostile torpedo away from the ship.

Another big winner in the Navy's research budget would be the E-2C radar modernization program, which seeks to build new radar technologies to upgrade the primary sensor of the Northrop Grumman carrier-based E-2C Hawkeye radar surveillance and early warning aircraft. The E-2C modernization effort would receive $352.3 million next year, up more than three times over the $111.2 the program received this year.

Specifically, Navy officials seek to improve the E-2C radar to give the aircraft surveillance capabilities in shallow coastal waters that are important to the Navy's theater Air Missile Defense (TAMD) Integrated Warfare Architecture.

Key radar technologies under consideration are space-time adaptive processing (STAP), electronically scanning array (ESA), solid-state transmitters, high-dynamic-range digital receivers, and identification-friend-or-foe/radar aperture integration. In addition, the program seeks to improve the E-2C aircraft avionics.

Air Force research

For the U.S. Air Force, many of the big-ticket research programs involve advanced surveillance and communications satellites. The Advanced EHF MILSATCOM program, for example, would receive $778.1 million next year, a huge amount even though it represents a 5 percent planned cut from this year's funding level of $822.5 million.

This program seeks to develop an advanced secure extremely high frequency (EHF) military satellite communications satellite. This spacecraft would have the capability for survivable, jam-resistant, worldwide communications for strategic and tactical fighting forces. Advanced satellites would replenish the existing Milstar EHF satellite system, and would use as much commercial technology as possible.

Also on the Air Force wish list for research money is the National Polar Orbiting Operational Environmental Satellite System — otherwise known as NPOESS. This is part of a joint DOD, U.S. Department of Commerce, and NASA project to develop a national polar-orbiting weather satellite system. The request for next year is $267.7 million, up from this year's amount of $232.1 million.

NPOESS would combine the follow-on to the DOD's Defense Meteorological Satellite Program and the Commerce Department's Polar-Orbiting Operational Environmental Satellite program. NPOESS would provide military commanders and civilian leaders with timely weather and environmental information.

Information would include visible and infrared cloud cover imagery, other atmospheric, oceanographic, terrestrial, and space environmental information. The system would use a combination of satellites in sun-synchronous 450-nautical mile polar orbit at all times.

Another satellite research priority in the Air Force is the Space-Based Infrared System (SBIRS) High program. SBIRS High would provide initial warning of a ballistic missile attack on the United States, its deployed forces, and its allies with new detection technologies, improved reporting of missile launches, and crucial mid-course tracking and discrimination data for national and theater missile defenses.

SBIRS would consist of satellites in geosynchronous orbits, highly elliptical orbits, and low Earth orbits. The SBIRS High request engineering and manufacturing development request next year is $617.3 million, down from this year's level of $775.4 million.

Other Air Force research highlights include a $374.1 million request for space-based radar development, $161.3 million for unmanned combat air vehicle development, $620.7 million for the future F-22 strike fighter, $2.2 billion for the future Joint Strike Fighter, $270.4 million for the Airborne Warning and Control System (AWACS), and $398.6 million for endurance unmanned aerial vehicles.

Defense agencies research

Substantial research programs are in progress in defense agencies that are not specifically attached to any individual military service. The largest research budget for the agencies would go to the Missile Defense Agency (MDA), which would receive $7.7 billion next year. Next is the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), which would receive nearly $3 billion.

Among other defense agencies next year, the Office of the Secretary of Defense would receive $1.6 billion, the Chemical and Biological Defense program would receive $599 million, the Special Operations Command would receive $440.4 million, the Defense Threat Reduction Agency would receive $382.2 million, and the Defense Information Systems Agency would receive $329.3 million.

Agency research budget highlights include $174.2 million for the defense-wide Advanced Electronics Technologies initiative, which encompasses programs such as uncooled integrated sensors, electronic module technology, advanced lithography, micro-electromechanical systems, and integrated microsystems technology.

The Chemical and Biological Defense program, meanwhile, is to receive $162.142 million. This program involves biological defense, contamination avoidance, collective protection, counter proliferation support, decontamination systems, homeland security, individual protection, medical biological defense, and medical chemical defense.

At the Missile Defense Agency, the big programs are the terminal defense segment for ballistic missile defense, which would receive $810.4 million, the midcourse defense segment, which would receive $3.6 billion, and the ballistic missile defense sensors program, which would receive $438.2 million.

DARPA research

DARPA leaders seek to showcase a wide variety of electronics and computing programs next year. One, aptly named the Computing Systems and Communications Technology program, seeks to create new software and information-processing technology for a broad range of military uses. DARPA is asking for $404.9 million for this initiative next year.

This program contains the High Performance Global Scale Systems project, which centers on computer networking and software for new generations of secure high-performance and affordable microsystems. The Information Assurance and Survivability project concentrates on computer networks seeks to safeguard wireless and mobile systems from computer hackers and eavesdroppers.

The Asymmetric Threat project seeks to counter threats of an unconventional yet highly lethal attack by loosely organized groups of transnational terrorists or other factions seeking to influence U.S. policy. The goal of this project is to develop technological capabilities and a suite of tools to detect and prevent attacks on crucial U.S. military infrastructure.

DARPA Tactical Technology program contains projects such as friction drag reduction of surface ships and submarines, hypersonic flight technologies, advanced land warfare technologies, and solid-state lasers. This program is asking for $250.6 million next year.

DARPA Tactical Technology projects also include high-performance computational algorithms to enhance radars, sensors, communications, electronic warfare, target recognition, and tracking systems. Tactical Technology also includes money for Air Force and Navy unmanned combat air vehicle and Army Future Combat System technologies.

DARPA also seeks $465.5 million next year for the Materials and Electronics Technology program, which contains projects related to materials processing, microelectronic device technologies, miniature cryogenic electronics coolers, and biologically based materials and devices.

Contained in this program are projects for lightweight personnel protection, mesoscale machines for miniature devices, and ultra-lightweight and amorphous materials. Its focus includes smart materials, sensors and actuators, and new materials for portable power.

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