Department of Defense S&T Funding

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Publication date: 
28 September 2007

As reviewed in FYI #98 (see, John Young, Director, Defense Research and Engineering, sent a memo to Secretary of Defense Robert Gates proposing a dramatic increase in DOD basic research funding. Under this proposal, FY 2009 funding for Foundational Sciences would increase by 21 percent, or $300 million, from the FY 2008 request of $1,428 million. Funding would continue to increase by $50 million a year through FY 2013.

As stated in FYI #98, the memo provides background for this proposed increase:

"The current S&T program represents 2.2% of the total DoD budget. Historically, the Defense Department has pursued a goal of investing 3% of the Department's budget in S&T. The Administration endorsed the 3% goal in 2001. While it is not clear that the '3% goal' is the most appropriate metric, it provides an easily calculated and useful benchmark as we work to identify better metrics. For example, the proportion of the DoD budget invested in S&T during the 1962-1965 timeframe was over 3%, laying the foundation for new generations of space systems, aircraft, and weapons. S&T spending was less than 2% of the DoD budget during the Reagan years; however, the Reagan administration increased S&T by roughly 50% in constant dollars - from $68 to $98. The reality is that there is virtually no business in the world like the Defense Department, so an appropriate metric for the level of defense S&T spending is hard to define. Metrics aside, there are S&T areas that should receive increased investment in the current program" (see .)

The "3% goal" that Young cited was contained in the 2001 Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR):

"A robust research and development effort is imperative to achieving the Department's transformation objectives. DoD must maintain a strong science and technology (S&T) program that supports evolving military needs and ensures technological superiority over potential adversaries. Meeting transformation objectives also will require new information systems. These must be married with technological advances in other key areas, including stealth platforms, unmanned vehicles, and smart submunitions. To provide the basic research for these capabilities, the QDR calls for a significant increase in funding for S&T programs to a level of three percent of DoD spending per year."

This QDR recommendation was based on a 1998 "Report of the Defense Science Board Task Force on Defense Science and Technology Base for the 21st Century." This report stated:"the most successful industries invest about 15% of sales in research and development with about 3.5% of sales invested in research (equivalent to the DoD S&T program)" (see

Before the release of the August memo, Director Young submitted a 31-page "Department of Defense Research & Engineering Strategic Plan" in June (see .) A section of this plan that begins on page 17 regarding "Strategic Science and Technology Priorities" explains "DoD’s R&E program should focus on delivering the capabilities outlined in the QDR and other high-level guidance to the warfighters. Each of these capability sets are supported by a large number of enabling technologies that provide S&T focus areas. Taken as a whole these capabilities and enabling technologies drive the S&T priorities needed to achieve the desired strategic outcomes. S&T priorities represent the most important S&T investment areas, and are organized into three broad categories depending upon technology maturity." This statement is followed by several pages of "Desired Capabilities S&T Investment Areas," as well as one-paragraph descriptions of Enabling Technologies in the Appendix.

In addition, starting on page 21, the Strategic Plan discusses Basic Research Areas:

"New military capabilities emerge from numerous sources. Historically, the Department’s investment in basic research has produced scientific and engineering breakthroughs that laid the foundation for new operational concepts and undreamed of military capabilities. In the past 20–30 years, basic research has spawned such tools and concepts as the Global Positioning System, stealth, and night vision devices. Since there is never a requirement for something that is unknown, the planners of basic research programs are rarely able to predict the operational capabilities resulting from their discoveries. The Department should continue to sustain its investment in basic research because of the proven and significant long-term benefits to the military. DoD requires a basic research program that invests broadly in many scientific fields to assure that it has early cognizance of new scientific knowledge. Areas of research that have produced significant improvement in military capabilities include: electronics, materials science, physics, chemistry, mathematics, computer science, mechanics, biological and life sciences, atmospheric and space sciences, cognitive and neural sciences, terrestrial sciences, and ocean sciences."

The Strategic Plan also discusses the importance of the Defense Department in regard to the development of new scientists and engineers:

"The DoD R&E program should support a sustained supply of scientists and engineers working on national security problems. This is becoming an increasingly critical element of the DoD R&E strategy as there are metrics suggesting that the American advantage in intellectual capital is eroding. Many countries of the world are producing scientists and engineers at a faster rate than the U.S. and the production gap is growing. Although the primary output of the DoD basic research program is new scientific knowledge, the secondary output is scientists and engineers who make up the national security workforce. The bulk of federal funding for scholarships and internships to support research in such areas as electrical and aeronautical engineering at universities comes from DoD investment. The DoD should continue to maintain a strong investment in basic and applied research to sustain the supply of scientists and engineers for the national security program."

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