Basic research accelerating at services, but not at DARPA

WASHINGTON - Leaders of all three U.S. military services are planning to increase their basic research during the coming fiscal year, but the Defense Advanced Research projects Agency (DARPA) is moving the opposite way.

By John Rhea

WASHINGTON - Leaders of all three U.S. military services are planning to increase their basic research during the coming fiscal year, but the Defense Advanced Research projects Agency (DARPA) is moving the opposite way.

DARPA officials are cutting basic research by 16.2 percent to $76 million next year and increasing applied research by 16.9 percent to $830 million, DOD officials reported at a forum at the Naval Research Laboratory in Washington.

In explaining the changes, Anita Jones, director of defense research and engineering, described DOD`s approach as an attempt to "preferentially protect research [and] leave a strong legacy for those who follow." She added that Navy officials are taking the lead in the strengthened basic research effort.

Also at the forum, Chief of Naval Research Paul Gaffney listed basic research as his top priority, with the lion`s share (56 percent) going to universities, 38 percent to Navy labs, and 6 percent to industry.

The situation is reversed for applied Navy research: 47 percent to industry, 44 percent to Navy labs, and 9 percent to universities. His projections call for a 8.5 percent increase for basic research to $382 million and an 8.5 percent cut in applied research to $490 million.

Fenner Milton, deputy assistant secretary of the Army for research and technology, said Army leaders, because of tight budgets, are focusingon dual-use technologies and upgrades rather than new systems. He anticipated an 11.1 percent increase in basic research to $199 million and a 16.1 percent decline in applied research to $463 million.

Representing the Air Force, Helmut Helwig, deputy assistant secretary for science, technology, and engineering, reported that industry performs 50 percent of all Air Force R&D but only 10 percent of basic research. He projected a 7.6 percent increase in basic research to $227 million and a 9.3 percent decline in applied research to $593 million.

Although DARPA focuses on high-risk technologies, director Larry Lynn said very little was planned for basic research and that the agency would rely on groups like the Defense Science Board and the Jasons (an advisory group of university physicists) for long-range concepts. DARPA officials are also chopping their funding of advanced technology development by 3.2 percent to slightly less than $1.26 billion.

Jones earlier testified before the House National Security Committee that she expected to reduce DOD`s research infrastructure, and that the in-house labs would be on the list for the next round of base realignment and closures.

An independent panel would be set up to examine redundant laboratories and test facilities to determine if "open-air testing" could be replaced by more computer simulation.

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