Senior Defense Official Proposes Dramatic Increase in S&T Funding

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Publication date: 
28 September 2007

"DOD's Science and Technology investment may be inadequate to meet the imposing security threats that challenge our Nation and may not be adequately robust to take advantage of key scientific and technological opportunities that offer breakthrough advantages to our warfighters." So stated John Young, Director, Defense Research and Engineering (, to Defense Secretary Robert Gates in an August 24 memo that recently became available.

This 13-page memo is a significant milestone in efforts to increase Department of Defense funding for its 6.1 basic research program. Under this proposal, funding for the basic research program would increase $300 million in FY 2009, an increase of 21.0 percent from the pending FY 2008 request of $1,428 million (see Moreover, funding would increase by $50 million a year through FY 2013, when an additional $500 million over the current budget would be requested. Total new funding over the five years would be $2,000 million.

The FY 2009 budget cycle is underway. An August OSTP/OMB memo providing R&D budget guidance for FY 2009 (released ten days before the Young memo) stated, "In addition to the doubling effort at these three agencies [NSF, DOE Office of Science, NIST research], real increases (above inflation) in the high-leverage basic research of the Department of Defense should be a significant priority" (see

Young's memo to Secretary Gates provides figures about the defense S&T budget, with emphasis on "foundational science":

"The total DoD budget, excluding supplemental funding, has grown roughly 34% in real terms during this Administration. Simultaneously, the DoD RDT &E budget has experienced a real buying power increase of 70%. In contrast, the DoD S&T budget has grown only 21 % in real terms during this Administration. To sharply illustrate these issues, the DoD budget rose by $42 billion in FY08 while the S&T budget declined $311 million from FY07. Equally concerning is the fact that the fraction of S&T investment devoted to foundational science, where the underpinnings of game-breaking warfighting advances usually occur (such as night vision, global positioning, precision targeting, and low observable coatings), has slipped to less than 15% of the S&T budget to accommodate the intense pressure for advanced development."

Later, Young's memo looks at defense S&T spending from another perspective:

"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 "

Young described the importance of defense S&T investments:

"The last decade of growth in acquisition and advanced research and development has drawn upon a reservoir of knowledge and technology developed by S&T investment -- analogous to draining a pool. In the rest of the world, there has been a resurgence of S&T investment . . . Global trends in the education of scientist and engineers clearly demonstrate the will of some nations to pursue science and technology and clearly provide ominous warnings about the future military and commercial capability of these nations. Indeed, with talent and funding, nations such as China and India are likely to develop science and technology capabilities and knowledge that rival the U.S. in the long term. The growing technology investment and human capital development in the rest of the world provides a strong motivation to increase our investment in S&T to replenish our nation's pool of ideas and intellectual talent and to remain competitive in a global technology market."

The memo described the importance of DOE funding of the physical sciences:

"DoD's funding in the physical sciences and applied technology have become more important as major corporations have disestablished science centers and research labs. This nation no longer has a Bell Labs. This fact, combined with changes in the 1990's to the Independent Research and Development (IRAD) regulations, creates a reduction in our Nation's S&T investment in the physical sciences most applicable to Defense needs. The reality is that DoD is the predominant source of funds pursuing basic and applied research in the physical sciences. Lacking a benchmark, some increase in the Defense Department's early phase S&T program is merited by the combination of technology opportunities, the diversification of the threat, and the decline in corporate research investment."

Young characterized his memo to Gates as a "strawman proposal . . . intended to provide a discussion piece. It has included inputs from the Department's senior S&T leadership. We can expand this group, refining these proposals and potentially adding new initiatives, if you believe this course of action merits further consideration during the upcoming budget deliberations." He provided as an attachment a list of 27 "science and technology area investment initiatives" totaling $1,310 million in new money in FY 2009. The first investment initiative on this list, which would receive, by far, the greatest amount of new funding ($300 - 500 million per year) is for Foundational Sciences, which is described as follows:

"The Department is coasting on the basic science investments of the last century, and is losing the force multiplier advantage conferred by harvesting those investments. The last 15 years (since the demise of the Soviet Union) have seen the Department pull back substantially from many science areas. Yet, scientific knowledge is the underpinning of the current US capability overmatch in most areas. The DoD must dramatically re-energize and re-invigorate the Nation's foremost scientific minds, especially those in early and mid-career, to focus on discovery, innovation, and synthesis in the physical and analytical sciences most crucial to our Nation's security. Among the areas of advanced scientific exploration to be investigated would be: biosensors, biometrics, nanotechnology, and advanced electronics (molecular and nanoelectronics), materials, nanosensors, photonic crystals, plasmonics, and computing sciences."

Young advises that the initiatives in his proposal should be funded with new money, stating, "Choosing to fund the proposed initiatives in lieu of current programs is not a good trade." He concludes the cover section of his memo by stating: "History has demonstrated that robust defense S&T funding has produced military capabilities which have been vital to this nation."

The Young memo is available at


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