U.S. Special Operations Command is looking to bolster its research-and-development funding in future years despite near-term cuts, according to a senior defense official.
Until then, the command will rely more on industry self-funding research and development (R&D) of military equipment and weapons, according to James Cluck, acquisition executive and director of the Special Operations Research, Development and Acquisition Center at U.S. Special Operations Command (USSOCOM).
“I’m seeing that more and more in the future as some of you are taking that investment, adventurous opportunity to refine some products, and then bring it to the government for certification and then the military buys it,” he said at a National Defense Industrial Association breakfast with defense contractors in Arlington, Va.
SOCOM has followed this model recently to acquire weapons, communications systems, vehicles and precision-guided air munitions.
Specifically, the command evaluated a munition that came close to meeting the capability officials desired. The company, on its own dime, made some changes to the weapon and SOCOM then purchased it.
Still, Cluck noted that this puts industry in a difficult position of having to self-fund R&D.
“We’re putting you in that environment simply because we don’t have the [R&D funds] to invest the way we’ve been able to invest in the past,” he said. “That concerns me because of the pressure that it places on [industry].”
Still, Cluck said he is concerned about a decline in SOCOM R&D funding as the command raids those accounts to fund operations and maintenance.
He has raised this issue with SOCOM Commander Adm. William McRaven, and officials are looking to put rules in future budget planning guidance “to make sure that we do not erode” and to form a “recovery plan” to increase R&D funding to prior levels.
As the Pentagon’s budget declines and the military shrinks its general purpose forces, SOCOM plans to grow in the coming years. While operations in Afghanistan draw down, SOCOM is still preparing to have about 12,000 of its eventual 70,000 troops deployed at any given time.
“SOCOM may have been impacted less than the services have been impacted by the recent budget decisions, but nevertheless we have been impacted, as well,” Cluck said. “In fact, we probably lost about $1 billion in the [five-year future years defense plan], which is a lot of money to a small portfolio.”
As a whole, the Pentagon is planning to cut $487 billion from planned spending over the next decade.
About 17 percent of SOCOM’s 2013 budget proposal would go toward procurement, which Cluck said is a little higher than the services are putting toward procurement. However in R&D coffers, SOCOM’s has requested less than 5 percent of its budget for these activities, compared with a Defense Department average of 13 percent.
“That to me is one of the biggest concerns I have,” Cluck said. “If we’re expecting to innovate, we’re expecting to bring in the latest next generation of capability, we’ve got to do that and fund it with R&D to get the creative juices flowing within industry to be able to see what the possible solutions may be to challenges on the battlefield.
“It’s very difficult to do that when your R&D is shrinking,” he continued.