WASHINGTON — Military research and development, and the technological superiority it creates, will bear an outsized share of cuts if sequestration remains, US Defense Department officials told members of the House Armed Services Emerging Threats and Capabilities subcommittee Thursday.
After a decade spent focusing on focused on counterinsurgency, the US's technology edge is eroding, said Alan Shaffer, the DoD's pPrincipal dDeputy aAssistant sSecretary of dDefense for rResearch and eEngineering. Opponents and potential adversaries, having seen how effective US technological superiority was in the first Gulf War, have spent the intervening years ramping up their military research, closing the gap with the US, he said.
If the budget caps set by 2011's Budget Control Act, known as sequestration, are reinstated in FY 2016, they will hinder the military's ability to develop the next generation of technologies, he said. Half of the DoD's budget cuts would come from modernization efforts, "Undermining our efforts to secure future advantage," he said.
The futuristic technologies mentioned varied from the very small, such as a Band-Aid-like sensor that can be attached to the skin to measure a pilot's fatigue and cognition, to the Large Displacement Unmanned Undersea Vehicle, an underwater drone for shoreline missions.
Dr. Arati Prabhakar, the director of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), said one goal is to achieve dominance of the electromagnetic spectrum, not just to enable military communications but to disrupt enemy capabilities.
"Controlling the electromagnetic spectrum is foundational in war fighting," she said. DARPA is working to develop "not just a future where we can operate in the electromagnetic spectrum, but to control the electromagnetic spectrum in real time in the battle space."
All of the witnesses, which also included Mary Miller, the Army's deputy assistant secretary for research and technology; David Walker, the Air Force's deputy assistant secretary for science, technology and engineering; and Rear Adm. Mathias Winter, the Navy's chief of naval research, agreed that sequestration would make hiring and retaining top talent more difficult.
The engineering workforce, already under strain, is beginning to assess whether it's worth staying in DoD positions, Miller said.
"I expect to lose some of our best and brightest engineers," she said. Her office is already operating under a "one for six" regimen, she said. "We can only hire one when we lose six."
Subcommittee Chairman Rep. Joe Wilson, R-S.C., and ranking member Rep. James Langevin, D-R.I., both voiced concern at what would happen if R&D funding was subjected to spending caps.
"Defense sequestration jeopardizes [the military's] technological superiority and our ability to outmatch and outclass potential adversaries," Wilson said. "If we have to remain at sequestration levels, I fear the adverse impact it will have on our science and technology programs."
"As budgets grow smaller, we recognize the necessity of growing the investment in [science and technology]," Langevin added. "If we fail to properly invest, we will be dealing with the consequences for decades."