Threat of Sequestration to U.S. Defense Technological Superiority Highlighted at Senate Hearing

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Publication date: 
8 May 2015

“We urge you to support all of this valuable work” said Frank Kendall, Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics, when discussing various programs to maintain U.S. military superiority.  “But most of all, we urge you to permanently repeal the threat of sequestration.  Removing this specter would do more than any other single act to spur innovation and preserve our military technological superiority.”

Kendall made this remark in concluding his prepared testimony to the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense on April 22.  Kendall was joined at the witness table by Alan Shaffer, Principal Deputy, Assistant Secretary of Defense for Research and Engineering and Steven Walker, Deputy Director, Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency

While this hearing lasted only an hour it was clear that Subcommittee Chairman Thad Cochran (R-MS), Vice Chairman Richard Durbin (D-IL) and their colleagues strongly support the Department of Defense’s science and technology programs. “This subcommittee has been a strong advocate of science and technology investments and has helped provide funding to make certain our nation can maintain its role as the leader in technology and innovation” said Cochran in his opening remarks.

Durbin focused on federal R&D spending in his opening statement, warning about its reduction as a share of GDP.  From 1960 to 1980 this share averaged 1.52 percent per year, since falling to an annual average of 0.8 percent. “This is a steady decline.  This led to a cumulative $1.5 trillion research investment deficit,” he said. “While we’re declining in our investment in research, many other nations are surging ahead.  Our nearest competitor, China, has increased funding of R&D and is on track to surpass the United States in research and development in a little over five years,” Durbin cautioned, later adding “If we live in the world of budget caps, we will find ourselves mired in a mess.”        

A wide range of topics were discussed during the three witnesses’ opening statements, including programs to maintain technological superiority, actions potential adversaries are taking to defeat U.S. power projection capabilities, management reform, the Defense Innovation Initiative,  and examples of basic research that enabled fielded technologies such as new radar and jammer systems. 

Cochran’s first questions centered on determining appropriate investments in warfare domains to maintain technological dominance.  Kendall said other countries, particularly China, are making R&D investments to defeat American power projection capabilities, many of which have resulted in deployed systems.  “There are many more in their pipeline that will be fielded in the next few years.  And the quantities, of course, are increasing.  So that’s the problem we face.  The fundamental thing we need to do about that . . . we need to invest adequately.”

Other questions involved technology transition, cyber-security and cyber-spying (about which Walker said “we’re under attack every day”), efforts to replace the Russian-made RD-180 rocket engine, better utilization of commercial technologies, and technology transfer. 

Also discussed was the Obama Administration’s FY 2016 request.  The Administration requested essentially flat total funding for the three S&T programs of $12,266.6 million, an increase of $14.6 million or 0.1 percent for FY 2016.  The 6.1 Basic Research request was down 8.3 percent from this year; the 6.2 Applied Research and 6.3 Advanced Technology Development budgets would increase 1.4 percent and 2.6 percent respectively.  Kendall replied “If you look back at the last several years, we have maintained, despite all the budget fluctuations, a fairly steady investment in terms of technology.  We’ve made very minor adjustments, I think, this year in our request to get back to more historical norms and to rebalance things a little bit.  But we have worked very, very hard to protect that.  It’s about . . . $12 billion out of our $60 to $70 billion of R&D, and that’s a very stable part of our budget.”

Following this hearing agreement was reached on an overall FY 2016 budget blueprint that will guide Senate appropriators.   In the next few weeks Cochran, who is also the chairman of the full Appropriations Committee, will decide how to divide $1.017 trillion in discretionary spending among his twelve subcommittees.  Cochran hopes each subcommittee will markup its own funding bill this year, a process that is expected to start around Memorial Day.


Note: selections are from a transcript prepared by and used with the permission of CQ Roll Call.