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In R&D Budget, Pentagon Focuses on Risk

Mar. 4, 2014 - 05:27PM   |  
External weapons on F-35B
Research and development funding for the Navy Department's two F-35 variants — including the F-35B Marine Corps version shown here — climbed by $173 million in the fiscal 2015 budget submission compared to the enacted fiscal 2014 level. (US Marine Corps)
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WASHINGTON — The Pentagon is living up to its promise to protect research and development (R&D) money in its fiscal 2015 budget submission, and the Pentagon will be pushing for greater risk taking and big bets, a senior official described Tuesday.

While the R&D budget will face pressure in the next couple of years as force structure savings take time to kick in and readiness is protected, Defense Department R&D chief Al Shaffer said the agency is looking at higher risk, higher reward opportunities.

“Although we’re protecting technology, we want to go ahead and invest in a few big bets,” Shaffer said, speaking at the Aviation Week Defense Technologies and Requirements conference in Arlington, Va., shortly before budget documents were officially released. “Coming out of the Vietnam War we invested in stealth. Coming out of the Cold War we invested very heavily in missile defense. So it’s really looking at what areas are we going to invest in to prepare for the future.”

In particular, the Pentagon has hyped planned future investment exceeding $1 billion in the next-generation engine initiative. But Shaffer said DoD is looking for greater risk-taking in R&D across the agency.

“I think we have to be a little bit more risk tolerant,” he said. “How we get there, I don’t know. One of the ways that we can get there a little bit is by, and we’ve seen a trend in this direction, protecting the investment in the places that tolerate more risk and failure, DARPA [Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency], at the expense of the service programs.”

DARPA saw a requested increase of $136 million, or roughly 5 percent from fiscal 2014 enacted levels, in the new budget. Shaffer warned that the services need to follow DARPA’s lead.

“If the services don’t begin to do more high risk, then I think we will continue to see greater investment percentage in DARPA,” he said.

The overall research, development, test and evaluation (RDT&E) request climbed a little over $400 million, or less than 1 percent compared to 2014 enacted levels. For most programs, however, the funding actually declined. It was a 9 percent increase in the Navy Department’s RDT&E budget request, representing a climb of $1.3 billion, that lifted the overall defense request into positive territory.

Most of that increase in the Navy’s RDT&E budget came from a $1.2 billion in planned system development and demonstration spending, including a $294 million increase for the presidential helicopter program, $173 million increase for the department’s two F-35 joint strike fighter variants, and an $144 million increase for the Advanced Missile Defense Radar system.

Despite that increase, the overall Navy Department budget climbed very little, up $361 million to $147.7 billion. Where did the Navy find the money? The service is asking for $3.2 billion less in procurement spending.

The Army, for comparison, saw its RDT&E request drop a little over $500 million, while the Air Force numbers remained fairly flat with an increase of only about $150 million.

Across the Defense Department, most categories of RDT&E spending took minor hits, with basic research, applied research, advanced technology development, system development and demonstration, and RDT&E management support all down modest amounts. The only two areas to see increases were advanced component development and prototypes, and operational systems development.

Special Operations Command (SOCOM) saw one of the more dramatic increases, climbing from $369 million to $508 million, largely on the back of what the budget categorized as “operational enhancements.” ■


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