Defense Research Programs Under Pressure to Deliver Results
This means finding the right mix of technologies that could benefit troops today and wild ideas that years from now could lead to “game-changing” systems or perhaps nothing at all, said officials at the National Defense Industrial Association’s annual science and engineering technology conference.
Marilyn Freeman, deputy assistant secretary of the Army for research and technology, said her biggest job is to protect programs from congressional budget hawks. Her director for basic research, Jeff Singleton, said the pressure is on to make the case for scientific studies to lawmakers and leaders within the Army and Defense Department.
As Dale Ormond, director of Army Research, Development and Engineering Command, put it: “We live in the space between the state of the art and the art of the possible.”
The process of innovation is changing, with an increased emphasis on items that can be fielded to them in months or a few years, officials said.
That has led to initiatives, such as the Rapid Innovation Fund, which are designed to take technology and accelerate the process it must go through to reach the field. The Office of Naval Research cobbles together existing technologies to solve immediate problems through a quick reaction fund.
“We’re not just a play-in-the-sand laboratory,” said Walter Jones, executive director of the Office of Naval Research.
ONR is structured so that half of its work is aimed at immediate demands and half is geared toward needs that are not yet completely clear. The Air Force’s priorities for science and technology likewise outline a program that must take into account the most immediate needs of troops. This still has to be balanced with long-term research, said Patrick Garrick, director of the physics and electronics directorate at the Air Force Office of Scientific Research.
While other areas are losing more funding, science and technology budgets are staying relatively flat, Jones said. A great deal of fluctuation in funding can wreak havoc with research, he said. It also can make it more difficult to bring products to the field.
“We need to continue to deliver to protect that stability,” Jones said.
Bob Smith, director of transition initiatives at ONR, said that developing technology sometimes is easier and faster than the transition to an acquisition program, he said. “Rapid is a relative term in my business.” The risk is that projects might end up in the dreaded “valley of death,” where research and development concepts die before they can be fielded.