BUDGET 2022: Pentagon Requesting Boost in R&D Funding to Compete with China
The Biden administration is proposing a significant increase in Defense Department research-and-development funding for future capabilities while cutting back on procurement spending for today’s systems.
The Pentagon’s fiscal year 2022 budget request, released May 28, calls for $112 billion for its research, development test and evaluation accounts. That would represent a $5.5 billion, or 5 percent, boost over the amount enacted for 2021. It is the largest RDT&E request in the history of the department.
Meanwhile, the fiscal blueprint would slash military procurement by $8 billion, or nearly 6 percent, to $133.6 billion.
The Biden administration is proposing a total of $715 billion for the Defense Department in 2022. That is $11.3 billion, or 1.6 percent, more than was enacted for 2021. The increase is “slightly” less than the anticipated rate of inflation, according to the administration, meaning the budget would slightly decline in inflation-adjusted dollars.
The investment plan comes as the U.S. military casts a wary eye toward China and its military advancements, and the Defense Department moves to acquire next-generation capabilities while cutting back on buying some of the older technologies that aren’t as well suited for a high-end fight.
“China poses the greatest long-term challenge to the United States,” according to the budget proposal. “Accordingly, DoD will prioritize China and its military modernization as our pacing challenge.”
To that end, the Pentagon is “investing in cutting-edge technologies that will deliver new warfighting advantages to our forces,” it added. They include artificial intelligence, hypersonics, cyber and quantum computing, among others.
The department plans to spend over $66 billion on efforts related to the Indo-Pacific region, including for the Pacific Deterrence Initiative, also known as PDI. That includes $5.1 billion in targeted investments aimed at developing and procuring capabilities in support of “joint force lethality,” including precision strike and stand-off systems such as advanced munitions.
The fiscal plan highlights what the Pentagon calls “advanced capability enablers.”
“Modernizing our military requires successful research, technology maturation, prototyping systems integration, and test capability to turn innovative and disruptive technology into fielded and sustainable military systems,” it said.
For 2022, the department is requesting $2.3 billion for microelectronics efforts, which are critical components for the Pentagon’s weapons platforms.
“The U.S. means of domestically producing advanced, assured microelectronics is fragile and threatened,” the budget blueprint said.
Plans to address the problem include: investments in domestic design, fabrication, and packaging capabilities and capacity to improve access to trusted, state-of-the-art microelectronics; increasing options for access to radiation-hardened parts; procuring sufficient quantities of legacy microchips; and expanding coordination across the U.S. government to ensure effective transition of advanced capability microchips into current and next-generation weapons systems.
Meanwhile, about $3.8 billion would go toward hypersonics weapons. The Army, Navy and Air Force are pursuing ground-launched, sea-launched and air-launched versions, respectively.
Artificial intelligence projects would receive $874 million to reflect the “rapidly growing importance of AI in every facet of the department’s operations,” the documents say. That would help fund more than 600 AI-related efforts.
Fifth-generation wireless networks, known as 5G, would get $398 million. The technology is expected to offer a “transformational magnitude of greater network bandwidth and speed, enabling the trillion-sensor world, thereby creating vastly more data from more sensors and sources.” The fast transfer of data could facilitate the U.S. military’s concept of joint all-domain command and control, which aims to link sensors and shooters across the joint force as devices are increasingly linked through a so-called internet of things.
A number of other cross-cutting capability areas would receive substantial funding.
“Modernizing the nation’s nuclear delivery and command, control and communications systems is the department’s number one priority,” the documents say.
The Pentagon’s next-generation nuclear systems would receive a slight bump in 2022 of $200 million, for a total of about $15.1 billion. Efforts include the Ground-Based Strategic Deterrent ($2.6 billion), Long-Range Stand-Off cruise missile ($600 million), Columbia-class ballistic missile submarine ($5 billion), Trident II missile mods ($1.6 billion), B-21 bomber ($3 billion), F-35 dual-capable aircraft systems ($40 million), B61 tail kit ($3 million), and nuclear command, control and communications ($2.9 billion).
Meanwhile, initiatives for missile defense and defeat would receive a total of $20.4 billion to bolster regional and strategic missile defense capabilities and “left-of-launch activities.”
Improving space and cyberspace capabilities are both high priorities for the administration.
The budget request would invest $20.6 billion to enhance U.S. capabilities to deter conflict in space and prevail in a “global all-domain fight,” Vice Adm. Ronald Boxall, director of force structure, resources and assessments for the Joint Staff, said during a Pentagon briefing with reporters.
“China and Russia are challenging U.S. advantage in space by fielding weapons to deny or destroy our space capabilities,” he said. “Lasers, electronic warfare, grappling systems and direct-action projectiles are a few technologies our adversaries have fielded or are developing to blind, jam or destroy U.S. space systems.”
Proposed investments for 2022 would go toward precision navigation and timing signals that will enable GPS-degraded operations, space launch vehicles to provide assured access to space, and proliferated low-Earth orbit data transport and missile warning solutions.
The Pentagon also wants to ensure the ability to succeed in a contested cyber environment, noted Deputy Secretary of Defense Kathleen Hicks. The budget proposal “provides the resources for the department to defend forward, and continues building cyber resiliency and protecting critical infrastructure,” she told reporters.
The Pentagon is requesting $10.4 billion for cyberspace activities. Funding would go toward a variety of efforts including: cryptology modernization and deployment for the next generation of mission systems and platforms; securing information-sharing across multiple security domains; “zero trust” architectures; operationalizing identity and credential access management modernization efforts; and automated continuous endpoint monitoring.
Meanwhile, for the most expensive acquisition program in Pentagon history, the F-35 joint strike fighter, the Biden administration wants to spend $12 billion for 85 planes, down from $12.9 billion enacted in 2021 for 96 of the jets. The Air Force, Marine Corps and Navy are buying A, B and C variants of the aircraft, respectively.
Among the services, the Department of the Air Force — which includes the Space Force — fared best in the budget request in terms of topline funding. It would receive a total of $212.8 billion in 2022, about $8.8 billion more than it was appropriated for 2021.
The Department of the Navy — which includes the Marine Corps — would receive $211.7 billion, or $4.6 billion more than it got for 2021.
The Army fared worst among the services, taking a $1.5 billion cut with a proposed topline of $171.7 billion.
“The department's focus on China requires additional investments for the Navy and Air Force, and the reduction for the Army reflects the president's decision to withdraw all U.S. troops from Afghanistan” by the end of this fiscal year, Pentagon Comptroller Anne McAndrew said during the briefing.
Defense-wide accounts, which include organizations that aren’t nestled under the services such as the Missile Defense Agency and Special Operations Command, would get a total of $117.8 billion, nearly $600 million less than in 2021.
Notably, the Pentagon has yet to release a new future years defense program, or FYDP, for fiscal years 2022-2026. The department normally includes its five-year spending plans when the annual defense budget is submitted.
Mackenzie Eaglen, a defense budget expert at the American Enterprise Institute think tank, said the proposed growth in Pentagon RDT&E funding is a continuation of a trend that’s been unfolding since the final years of the Obama administration.
“This is the new [Biden] team’s emphasis, which is on capability, which tends to be biased towards future investments, which tends to be of course mostly technological,” she said.
However, boosting research-and-development funding won’t be enough as the United States seeks to maintain its edge against China’s military, which continues to modernize, according to Eaglen.
“An emphasis on R&D is not a panacea,” she told National Defense.
“It's time to move programs into production; no more science experiments,” Eaglen said. “We need to start picking winners and losers and building things. It's not enough to simply experiment and prototype for another five years. We don't have that kind of time.”
Eaglen said she’s not opposed to high levels of R&D spending, but the technology needs to transition faster into new procurement programs.
Meanwhile, President Joe Biden’s budget proposal still has to wind its way through Congress, which holds the power of the purse and sets annual military spending levels.
Eaglen said she thinks Congress will eventually appropriate $715 billion or perhaps “slightly” more for the Pentagon in 2022. But it might take a while because lawmakers will be dealing with other bills that are on the front burner. The Biden administration’s budget request also came in historically late. Presidential budget proposals are normally released in early February, not late May.
Fiscal year 2022 begins Oct. 1. Eaglen expects Congress to pass continuing resolutions to keep the U.S. government operating at fiscal year 2021 spending levels until final appropriations bills are passed many months after FY ’22 has already started.
“It's going to be a long time getting there,” she said. “And by a long time, I mean a longer CR than we've seen in recent years. … I think it's going to be more like half a year.”