2023 Science, Technology Budget a Mixed Bag

By Sean Carberry

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The fiscal year 2023 Defense Department budget proposal is a big win for research, development, test and evaluation — particularly the science and technology portion of the funding — according to senior officials. However, a closer analysis of the request and the impact of inflation indicates the proposal is less than the fiscal year 2022 enacted budget.

The 2023 budget proposal includes $130 billion for RDT&E, a 16 percent increase above the 2022 proposed defense budget. The portion for science and technology — budget activity codes 6.1 through 6.3 — includes $16.5 billion, a 12 percent increase, said Undersecretary of Defense for Research and Engineering Heidi Shyu during a National Defense Industry Association-hosted webinar April 20.

Shyu’s office would receive $1.6 billion in science-and-technology funding, a 21 percent increase. “So, it’s a huge jump,” said Shyu.
Basic research for the entire Defense Department is nearly $2.4 billion, a 4 percent increase, and Shyu’s office would receive $244 million, a 23 percent increase, under the proposed 2023 budget.

In terms of investment priorities, funding for Shyu’s office aligns with the 14 “critical technology areas” she outlined in a Feb 1 memo.

Microelectronics — particularly onshoring — 5G, hypersonics, directed energy and integrated sensing and cyber top the list based on funding.
Rear Adm. Lorin Selby, chief of naval research in the Office of Naval Research stated in the webinar that one-third of the Navy’s science-and-technology priorities align with the research and engineering office’s critical technology areas, and the rest are Navy-centric. Some of the Navy’s science-and-technology priorities for its proposed $2.6 billion funding include unmanned systems, sonar buoys, electric laser systems and tools to collect and fuse live and virtual training data.

“We need tools that help us prioritize and focus on what the humans should focus on and let the machines do the things the machines can do,” said Selby. “This is one I’m doubling down on.”

The Air Force’s $3.15 billion science-and-technology budget is split with 25 percent for enduring Air Force priorities — such as munitions, engines, aircraft power, nuclear systems and low observable technologies — and 75 percent for the critical technology areas. Space Force priorities include combat power projection, information mobility and space security.

For 2023, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency is seeking $896 million for microelectronics — which is largely driven by the next phase of the agency’s Electronics Resurgence Initiative to promote onshoring — $414 million for biotechnology, $412 million for artificial intelligence, $184 million for cyber, and $90 million for hypersonics.

The Army’s $2.7 billion science-and-technology budget focuses on six longstanding modernization priorities — such as long-range precision fires, future vertical lift and soldier lethality. Within that are priority research areas, including disruptive energetics, hypersonic flight, autonomy, additive manufacturing and synthetic biology.

“There is a world beyond 2030, and so we have to really start swinging the pendulum back just a little bit and focusing on those enabling technologies … to look and mature technologies for what’s next,” said Jeffrey Singleton, director for technology in the office of the assistant secretary of the Army.

Panelists stressed efforts to expand the pool of technology partners and invest in future workforce. The research and engineering office’s budget for Small Business Innovation Research and Small Business Technology Transfer programs climbs to $191 million in the 2023 proposal. The officials also noted increased funding for science, technology, engineering and mathematics education and for historically Black colleges and universities.

Selby argued money is important, but there are structural problems that need to be addressed to ensure programs are achieving objectives and moving technology forward. “Part of this has to do with the fact that we have got many, many people that get a say in what happens to these different pots of money … there’s no single conductor,” he said.

“So, you have multiple conductors that are trying to compete with each other … because we’re all operating under different incentives, different priorities, different budget timelines, different acquisition timelines, we have these missed opportunities left and right,” he added.

While the 2023 proposed budget represents significant increases in science-and-technology funding above the 2022 president’s budget, the 2023 proposal comes in well below the 2022 enacted budget. As it often does, Congress appropriated more than what was sought in the 2022 budget proposal.

For example, the 2023 request of $16.5 billion for science-and-technology funding is greater than the $14.7 billion requested in the 2022 president’s budget, but 13 percent less than the $18.8 billion Congress enacted in 2022. The 2023 request for basic research is 14 percent less than the nearly $2.6 billion Congress enacted in 2022.

Under the 2023 proposal, Army science-and-technology funding is nearly 37 percent below enacted 2022 funding, and Navy and Air Force funding are down 18 percent and 13 percent respectively.

DARPA — which accounts for 25 percent of Defense Department science-and-technology funding — would get a 6 percent increase from its 2022 enacted funding. That is one of the few increases in science-and-technology funding above the enacted 2022 budget.

In addition to the real dollars being less than the 2022 enacted funding, inflation will further reduce the buy of the 2023 president’s budget.

Topics: Budget, Research and Development, Science and Engineering Technology

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