WASHINGTON — As the U.S. Department of Defense’s laboratories and testing organizations grapple with a multibillion dollar infrastructure funding gap, lawmakers want to boost fiscal 2022 funding for the most critical projects by nearly $800 million.
The funding — included in the fiscal 2022 compromise defense spending bill released this week — targets key technology development and testing infrastructure like space, hypersonic weapons, directed energy, electromagnetic spectrum and targeting, adding $422.7 million across multiple defense-wide and Navy research and development projects.
The bill also proposes $375.4 million to make DoD’s ranges more representative of a fifth-generation threat environment, funding projects at the Nevada Test and Training Range, Point Mugu Sea Range, China Lake and the Joint Pacific Alaska Range Complex. Along with the range improvement funding, lawmakers require a report from the Director for Operational Test and Evaluation as well as the Test Resource Management Center that outlines a spending plan and details any outyear funding needs.
“It is noted that recent investments in next-generation weapons such [as] hypersonics, directed energy and space technologies have not been accompanied by investments in the associated test infrastructure to demonstrate these capabilities under operationally relevant conditions against realistic threats,” lawmakers said in a joint explanatory statement accompanying the bill.
The proposed funding increase is significantly lower than the $1.1 billion recommended by Senate appropriators in an earlier bill. But it comes as DoD and industry leaders raise concerns about the state of lab and testing facilities.
The department’s fiscal 2022 unfunded requirements list for lab military construction projects, obtained by Defense News, identifies 81 projects totaling approximately $3.29 billion. Of the 81 projects, 22 come from the Army, 29 from the Navy and 30 from the Air Force; 57 of the projects are deemed major and 24 minor.
Undersecretary of Defense for Research and Engineering Heidi Shyu pegged the total shortfall at closer to $5 billion during a Potomac Officers Club event in January. Shyu said at the time the department’s Innovation Steering Group was working to understand which projects were most critical as well as the implications of not funding those efforts.
And then in February, during a meeting convened by Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin to discuss hypersonic technology development, industry executives identified testing infrastructure shortfalls as a major barrier to fielding the capabilities on a faster timeline.
Former DoD officials and analysts told Defense News at the time that the department’s fiscal 2023 budget will be a key indicator as to whether the department is serious about improving hypersonic test infrastructure.
Mark Lewis, executive director of the National Defense Industrial Association’s Emerging Technology Institute and former acting deputy undersecretary of defense for research and engineering, said there needs to be an Office of the Secretary of Defense-level commitment to investing in things like wind tunnels and other facilities that make it easier to flight test.
Under lawmakers’ proposed fiscal 2022 plus-up, a project to revive a decommissioned synthetic air hypersonic propulsion test facility would receive about $29.5 million in additional funding. The bill would also add $200 million for advanced electronically scanned array radar test infrastructure, $105.4 million for electromagnetic spectrum lab and test upgrades and $40 million to buy new C-band and X-band decoy systems.