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Author: Delores M. Etter
Leveraging advances in commercial technologies and maintaining a well-balanced, adequately funded S&T program will be necessary to retaining our technological edge.
As the U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) moves into the twenty-first century, its science and technology (S&T) program faces significant challenges from several sources. In a changing world environment, asymmetric threats to our military and our country include chemical and biological warfare, nuclear proliferation, and information warfare (cyberwarfare). New technologies are available globally, and we must expect that our adversaries will have access to many of them. Unrestricted access encourages a "run faster" strategy to try to maintain our technological edge. At the same time, economic realities require that DOD maintain a robust range of capabilities and use commercial systems and processes whenever possible.
In this article, priorities for DOD’s research investments are suggested, a case is presented for strong stable investment in DOD's S&T, and the role of DOD’s partners in S&T is discussed. The opinions presented do not represent an official position. They are the opinions of an academic who has had a wonderful opportunity to interact with DOD for the last 10 years--first as an advisor to various groups and boards and recently as the deputy under secretary of defense for science and technology.
Investment in the Future
The mission of DOD's S&T program is to develop superior, affordable technology with a focus on revolutionary capabilities. History has proven that investments in S&T have significant benefits. Past investments have led to revolutionary capabilities, such as the global positioning system (GPS), night vision, stealth weapons, phased-array radars, and adaptive optics for laser systems, to name but a few. DOD’s responsibility today is to ensure that investments in S&T continue so that soldiers 10 to 15 years from now will also have new military capabilities.
There are never enough dollars for all of the research the services and defense agencies want, and identifying the most important problems that should be addressed by DOD's S&T program is a challenge in itself. In areas where industry is the leader, DOD should leverage those efforts, not compete with them. In addition, the services and defense agencies should collaborate on really difficult problems. S&T executives from the services and defense agencies recently participated in an exercise to develop strategic cooperative initiatives in S&T (Box 1).
S&T priorities for basic research of interest to many of the services and defense agencies are defined in another program, the Multidisciplinary University Research Initiatives (MURI) Program. MURI supports multidisciplinary teams, typically composed of researchers from several universities, to conduct research on topics proposed and managed by the services and defense agencies (Box 2). The items in Boxes 1 and 2 that support the directions outlined by the new secretary of defense should represent the new administration’s highest priorities.
Funding for Research
Research is always related to funding, so we now turn to a discussion of some of the fundamentals of DOD funding. Figures 1--5 (see full version for figures) illustrate the distribution of DOD’s investment in S&T for fiscal year 2001 (FY01). Figure 1 shows the allocation by Congress for research, development, testing, and evaluation (RDT&E). The overall total is $41.3 billion, with $9 billion of that going to S&T, which is broken into three components: basic research (called 6.1 research), applied research (6.2), and advanced technology development (6.3). Once a technology goes into prototype (6.4), it is no longer part of S&T. The distribution of the $9 billion for S&T for FY01 is shown in Figure 2. The first three bars represent the three services. The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), whose primary focus is on high-risk/high-payoff research, has the largest allocation, nearly $2 billion. The programs in the Office of the Secretary of Defense (OSD) allocation are primarily corporate programs or DOD-wide programs. The final bar is a combination of dollars for the Ballistic Missile Defense Organization, the Defense Threat Reduction Agency, and the Defense Logistics Agency. The dollars are quickly passed from the services and defense agencies to those who actually perform the research (Figure 3). As expected, the key performers of basic research (6.1) are universities; applied research (6.2) is split between service laboratories and industry; and the key performer of advanced technology development (6.3) is industry.
We can also analyze the contributions of S&T for each service by separating their funding into three categories: (1) dollars for today’s forces, which ensure readiness through operations and maintenance; (2) dollars for tomorrow’s forces, which go toward modernizing systems; and (3) dollars invested in the future through S&T. Figure 4 shows the distribution of these dollars for the services by percentage of their total obligation authority. As this figure shows, from an overall perspective the investment in S&T is really very small. S&T funding in actual dollars for the last decade is shown in Figure 5. Note that the Air Force, which was by far the largest investor in FY89, is the smallest investor in FY01. The decrease, an Air Force decision, has caused significant concerns among DOD research offices, the Air Force Scientific Advisory Board, and others that the Air Force is short-changing its future to solve near-term problems. This is not an issue of "good guys" vs. "bad guys"; the Air Force has had to make difficult trade-offs between very real short-term needs (readiness and modernization) and long-term commitments to future needs (S&T). Recently, the Air Force has been considering increasing its commitment to S&T. The next few years will show if this discussion translates into resolve towards that goal.
Partnerships in S&T
The success of many past DOD investments in S&T are directly attributable to the unique contributions of the partners in DOD programs. Universities have pushed the limits of new knowledge and developed a pool of scientists and engineers to work in industry, government, and academia. DARPA, with its high-risk/high-payoff mission, continues to identify and develop technologies that lead to new capabilities, such as stealth weapons and the Internet. The service laboratories, the links to operational forces, provide a path for the transition of new technologies to fielded systems. Industry continues to drive much of the innovation and transition of technologies to the commercial world as well as to the military. Interactions with other agencies, such as the National Science Foundation, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, and the U.S. Department of Energy, have enabled DOD to leverage their investments. And, finally, DOD is developing collaborative research teams with international allies to leverage our respective strengths, encourage the interoperability of systems, and provide a foundation for mutually beneficial relationships.
Developing S&T is important, but the results must be translated into fielded systems to make a difference. Therefore, the issue of technology transition must have a high priority. There are no silver bullets for transitioning a new technology. Serious efforts must be made to match capabilities with needs early on. The earlier the two are matched, the greater the likelihood of a successful transition. DOD's Advanced Concept and Technology Demonstration (ACTD) Program has successfully taken mature technologies into the field in prototype systems. Recent successes include the Predator, Global Hawk, and new unmanned air vehicles.
Another nontechnical challenge is enhancing and maintaining the S&T workforce. The average age of a laboratory technologist is 45 years and rising, and more than half of DOD's S&T workforce will be eligible for retirement in the next five years. DOD must find creative ways to rebuild the strength of the workforce before critical capabilities are lost. With the help of Congress, efforts are under way to give laboratory directors authorities similar to those of commercial laboratory directors, such as the authority to hire outstanding candidates on the spot, the authority to reward employees who make critical contributions to important programs, and the authority to offer competitive salaries. Other avenues are also being explored, such as providing opportunities for commercial scientists and engineers to work temporarily in DOD laboratories and for DOD employees to spend time working in industry; this is a winning situation for everyone.
Focus on the Future
DOD's S&T program must be focused on the future. The challenges to maintaining a strong program are real, but so are the benefits. There is no doubt that technical superiority is critical to our national defense:
In times of peace, technical superiority provides deterrence. In times of crisis, it provides options. In times of war, it provides an edge.
National Science Foundation. 2000. Federal Funds for Research and Development. Vol. 48, Detailed Statistical Tables. Arlington, Va.: National Science Foundation.
Box 1 Strategic Cooperative Initiatives in S&T