Analysts See Shortfalls in Pentagon S&T Funding

By Jon Harper

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The Pentagon needs to invest more in science-and-technology programs to be prepared to deter or defeat advanced adversaries, according to a recent think tank report.

President Joe Biden’s fiscal year 2022 military budget request is a “mixed bag,” said a new Center for a New American Security study, “Risky Business: Future Strategy and Force Options for the Defense Department.”

“In some respects, it appears to prioritize preparing for high-end conflict. The large [research, development, test and evaluation] budget suggests that the DoD is focused on developing the next generation of technologies and capabilities,” it said. “Yet one needs to look below the topline RDT&E budget to examine how much of those funds is allocated to the science and technology budget (budget activity codes 6.1–6.3), which is critical basic and applied research that is needed to develop advanced technologies, especially the game-changing types of technologies that the Biden administration claims to be focused on.”

The RDT&E programs that fall under other activity codes are focused on developing more near-term prototypes and improvements to existing capabilities, noted CNAS analysts Stacie Pettyjohn, Becca Wasser and Jennie Matuschak, who authored the report.

The proposed $14.7 billion S&T budget for 2022 is just 13 percent of the total RDT&E budget request, they noted. In comparison, the 2015 budget request for science and technology accounted for 18.1 percent of the research, development, test and evaluation budget.

“Most of the 5.1 percent gains that make this FY22 RDT&E budget request the largest ever are not focused on developing the most advanced capabilities,” the study said.

Among the services, the Army leads the pack in requested S&T funding at about $2.7 billion, or 21 percent of its RDT&E budget. The Departments of the Navy and Air Force requested about $2.4 billion and $2.5 billion for S&T, or 10 percent and 6 percent of their RDT&E budgets, respectively.

As the Biden team puts together its 2023 budget, it should look at cutting force structure and shifting more funding to military S&T programs, the report suggested.

“If the Biden administration intends to … keep the strategy focused on deterring high-end conflict and winning a conflict against a great power, cuts to the size of the forces should be expected,” the study said. “This would free up resources to move into S&T and, following a few years of high-level research and development budgets, those efforts should mature and be fielded at scale, causing the procurement budget to rise.”

Topics: Research and Development, Science and Engineering Technology

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