Glory Days of Funding May be Over

letters@govexec.com

I t isn't often that defense research and development becomes an issue in a presidential campaign, but this year it has. Republican presidential candidate George W. Bush has promised that if elected, he will spend an extra $20 billion on defense R&D to facilitate a leap ahead in military technology that already has some analysts talking about a "revolution in military affairs."

The vanguard of that revolution is already visible on the horizon. Last year, for instance, U.S.-led NATO forces for the first time defeated a land army in Kosovo with precision-guided air power alone. The components of that lopsided defeat included unmanned aerial vehicles, stealth aircraft, satellite- and laser-guided munitions, and advanced information systems supplying unmatched command, control, communications and intelligence (C3I). The synergistic result of those technologies is a U.S.

military whose "situational awareness" and ability to influence the battlefield from afar is far superior even to that of our closest and richest allies, leading some NATO allies to worry about a rapidly widening "technology gap."

The seed corn for that crop of high-tech military systems is the Defense Department's R&D programs. During much of the Pentagon's decade-long downsizing, R&D funding fared better than other military accounts. Overall defense funding is now about 35 percent lower than it was at the height of the Reagan defense buildup in fiscal 1985, for instance, yet funding for R&D is only about 17.5 percent lower.

With DoD shifting more money into procurement in recent years to address a looming modernization crisis, however, the picture has changed. Over the next five years R&D funding is projected to be cut significantly. The administration's plans now call for increasing the overall defense budget by 1.3 percent in fiscal 2001 and keeping it relatively flat thereafter, whereas the R&D budget is projected to drop a precipitous 14 percent. The administration's R&D request for fiscal 2001 is $37.9 billion.

Pentagon officials point out that the fiscal 2001 request is significantly higher than the Cold War average for R&D spending, which was about $33 billion in fiscal 2001 dollars. In fact, even the projected funding for 2005 is slightly above the average during the Cold War. At that time, the U.S. military was attempting to maintain its technological edge over the forces of another superpower that also was spending enormous amounts on military R&D. By contrast, the Soviet Union is now a footnote in history, and the United States faces no peer competitor.

The Pentagon's largest R&D outlays are associated with major weapons systems. For the Army, the administration requested $614 million in fiscal 2001 for continued development of the RAH-66 Comanche armed reconnaissance helicopter, which is intended to replace the Army's existing fleet of OH-58 and AH-1 scout

helicopters. The administration also requested $356 million in fiscal 2001 for development of the Army's Crusader artillery system and the Artillery Resupply Vehicle.

The proposed fiscal 2001 budget also includes $857 million for continued development of the Joint Strike Fighter, which is intended to replace current fighters in the Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps with a family of affordable aircraft. Engineering and manufacturing development of the JSF is scheduled to begin next year, with initial production projected for 2005. The fiscal 2001 budget also included $148 million for continued R&D on the V-22 tilt-rotor, vertical-takeoff-and-landing aircraft planned primarily as a replacement for Marine Corps helicopters. Meanwhile, the Navy would get $274 million in R&D funding for continued development of the CVN(X), the lead ship of a new class of aircraft carrier.

Stay up-to-date with federal news alerts and analysis — Sign up for GovExec's email newsletters.
JOIN THE DISCUSSION
Close [ x ] More from GovExec
X CLOSE Don't show again

Like us on Facebook