Hearing Reviews Request for Defense Science and Technology Programs

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Publication date: 
29 May 2009

“S&T programs are essential to maintaining our technological superiority and we must ensure they aim to confront the enemies we face today and in the future” - Chairman Adam Smith; House Subcommittee on Terrorism, Unconventional Threats and Capabilities

Last week’s hearing by a subcommittee of the House Armed Services Committee provided an overview of the scientific and technological opportunities and challenges facing the Department of Defense and the S&T community.  Among the most important messages: the need for S&T policies and budgets to adjust to changes in today’s battlefields, and to anticipate future war fighting needs.

Comparing current year funding and the FY 2010 budget request for the 6.1 basic research, 6.2  applied research, and 6.3 advanced technology development programs of the Department of Defense is less straightforward than it is for other S&T agencies and budgets.  The FY 2010 request for the three defense S&T programs  is down 13.6 percent when compared to the FY 2009 appropriation.  There is considerable earmarking in the appropriation that some observers contend should be discounted.  Some DOD analyses compare the request for the current year to the request for the coming fiscal year, and may adjust for inflation.  This approach was taken by one of the hearing’s five witnesses, Alan Shaffer, who is the Principal Deputy, Defense Research and Engineering.  His testimony compared the FY 2009 President’s Budget Request for all three S&T programs of $11,475 million to the FY 2010 President’s Budget Request of $11,419 million (expressed in constant year FY 2009 dollars) and found a decline in defense S&T of  0.5 percent.  Using this same approach the request for Basic Research is up by 3.8 percent.

In his opening remarks, Chairman Adam Smith (D-WA) said it had been a “very interesting  budget year” for the Defense Department, stressed the need to prioritize, and commented that  R&D, and science and technology programs “have done quite well” in the request.  He stressed  the need to respond to current battlefield needs, and spoke of the necessity of the “balance to meet battlefield needs and to look down the road.”  Ranking Member Jeff Miller (R-FL) offered similar remarks, saying that the subcommittee has to “get it right” in its deliberations.

The hearing featured four witnesses from the three service branches and DARPA in addition to Shaffer.  This FYI will review Shaffer’s testimony since it provides the broadest overview of DOD’s science and technology programs.  All of the testimony may be viewed here.

Shaffer’s testimony made a number of important points.  Early on, he told the subcommittee:

“This is an exciting time to be in DoD S&T, a time with a great deal of on-going change of focus. For the third straight year, we submitted a President’s Budget Request for Science and Technology that conveys substantial change driven by the continuing shift in national security priorities to meet the requirements of fighting our current irregular military engagement. Counter-insurgency warfare and the battle against terrorists, requires the DoD to continue to expand our capabilities in diverse areas such as persistent surveillance, protection technologies, cultural and social modeling, and other non-kinetic capabilities. At the same time, the Department needs to maintain adequate conventional operational capabilities. In total, we have moved over $6 billion of S&T investment over the last three President’s Budget Requests to address new mission areas.”

Shaffer explained that “the S&T program fared well in comparison to many other discretionary accounts,” and explained that “the DOD has increased emphasis on S&T” by increasing its budget by almost 15 percent above inflation from FY 2002 to the FY 2010 request (about 2 percent annually.)

DOD is continuing two trends in its budget submission this year.  S&T funding is continuing to increase for the Services as compared to the agencies and the Office of the Secretary of Defense.  Funding is also continuing to move from kinetic to non-kinetic capabilities.  Areas of increased investment in this budget request include medical S&T, expanded cyber protection, expanded anti-tamper technology, stand off detection of fissile materials, large data handling capabilities, sociology research, high performance computing modernization, power and energy, cognitive and neurosciences, and composites.  Shaffer’s testimony briefly reviews the applicable service branch, funding level, and a brief description of the research in each area.

Also covered in Shaffer’s testimony were changes in world-wide S&T, which he described as follows:

“Embedded within the changes in the worldwide geopolitical and economic landscape are significant shifts in the global science and technology landscape. These S&T changes consequently impact the Department's investment projections. There are numerous factors that, combined, make this a complicated and ambiguous time for S&T. Such influential trends escalate technological risk, and most of the trends are not something we can do anything about. Taken together, they culminate in an increased risk of technology surprise, and underlie the priority of S&T outlined by Secretary Gates. This priority, in turn, supports the need for the Department to maintain a robust S&T investment.”

The factors include an increasing number of scientists and engineers as compared to the U.S. and Europe, increasing foreign R&D investment, the increased use of commercial technology, and accelerated technology development.

Shaffer identified the importance of basic research as one of Defense Secretary Robert Gates’ “strategic principles and the relevance to defense S&T.”  His written testimony  stated:  “DoD Basic Research provides an essential source of new knowledge and understanding in science and engineering areas that underpin national defense. Today’s science and engineering research leads to tomorrow’s new technologies, which in turn transforms tomorrow’s battlefield. In this globally connected S&T world, we need to be assured that US applies its intellectual and technological resources to keep ahead of a determined and sophisticated adversary.”  Gates’ first priority is “taking care of our people,“ which includes the enhancement of the science, technology, engineering, and mathematics workforce.  Also a priority: to “institutionalize and enhance our capabilities to fight the wars we are in today and the scenarios we are most likely to face in the years ahead,” which include programs in areas such as intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance; large data processing, and energy efficiency.

Committee members asked the witnesses about a wide range of research areas, including measures to protect against Improvised Explosive Devices, the coordination of DARPA cyber research with the National Science Foundation, the rapid fielding of new technologies on the battlefield, workforce development (which Shaffer called “a concern of everyone at this table,”) prioritization of immediate and future needs, the weight of body armor, nanotechnology, energy extraction and use, and irregular warfare.

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