High Stakes for High Technology


In this information age, the United States has become more determined than ever that its armed forces have no technological peer. During the Cold War, technological superiority was considered necessary to offset the much larger forces of the former Soviet Union. More recently, advanced technology enabled the Defense Department to achieve decisive victory with historically low levels of casualties and collateral damage to civilians during the Persian Gulf War. The rapid spread of commercial communications and computer tech- nologies around the world-coupled with the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction-have only increased the stakes in the technological arms race.

The by-products of that competition have largely come to define the information revolution. Defense Department funding in the realm of computers and communications over the past decades is directly responsible for such advances as the supercomputer, the World Wide Web, high-resolution video graphics, atomic clocks, speech recognition, artificial intelligence-even the ubiquitous computer mouse.

That commitment to technological superiority is also evident in DoD's funding of research and development (R&D), the seed corn of high technology. Since funding for defense began its precipitous decline 12 years ago, R&D has been protected more than any other Pentagon account. While overall defense spending has dropped by 39 percent since 1986, according to the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, R&D funding has fallen by only 18 percent.

For fiscal 1999, the Pentagon has requested $36.1 billion for R&D. Virtually all new weapons programs have a heavy research and development component.

With the approach of a "bow wave" of weapons procurements early in the next decade, however, the R&D account is expected to be more tightly squeezed. The Clinton administration currently plans to hold the overall defense budget essentially flat over the next five years, but the R&D budget is projected to be cut by 14 percent. That will mean an R&D budget in 2003 that is $4.2 billion lower than today, but still slightly above the Cold War average of $31 billion (in fiscal 1999 dollars).

"Notwithstanding the importance of R&D programs to the maintenance of U.S. technological superiority over the long term, it is unclear whether these proposed reductions should be cause for concern," wrote Steven Kosiak, a senior analyst at the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, in an analysis of the fiscal 1999 Defense budget request. "During the Cold War, the U.S. military was attempting to maintain technological superiority over another superpower which was also expending enormous resources on military R&D. By contrast, Russian spending on military R&D has dropped dramatically since the end of the Cold War, and no other country in the world spends anything close to what the United States spends on military R&D."

Under such budget constraints, however, not everyone is so sure the United States will be able to capitalize on what many observers believe is a coming "revolution in military affairs" driven by hyper-speed advances in command, control, computers, communications, intelligence (C4I), reconnaissance and surveillance. For example, Sen. Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M., a senior member of the Armed Services Committee, wants the Pentagon to increase its science and technology budget request by at least 2 percent per year over inflation beginning in 2000.

"The technology that gave us such an advantage during Operation Desert Storm was largely the fruit of defense research investments made 20 to 30 years ago," says Bingaman. "If we don't mount a similar push today in the area of technological innovation, we will find ourselves unable to meet the national security challenges that will confront us in the next century. Our military will soon face a host of technology-related problems, including information warfare, proliferated weapons of mass destruction and cheap, precise and widely available cruise missiles. Yet our investment in defense research is projected to remain flat in real terms well into the next millennium."

Information Superiority

Advanced C4I capabilities that allow commanders to rapidly gather information on the precise location of enemy and friendly forces, and to assimilate that information in near real time to establish superior battlefield awareness, is at core of the "revolution in military affairs." A number of DoD programs-both those that are purely R&D and others already in the procurement stage-reflect the emphasis on information superiority.

The Next Generation Internet (NGI) is a three-year, $100 million per year program to develop the next generation of high speed networks, which will be 100 to 1,000 times faster than today's Internet. The team of developers includes the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, the National Science Foundation, the Energy Department and NASA. Once deployed, the NGI would give the military secure, high performance, global communications. The administration has requested $40 million for the program in fiscal 1999.

The Defense Intelligence Agency, meanwhile, is leading an advanced concept technology demonstration to quickly test prototypes of enhanced management systems for intelligence collection across multiple agencies and levels of command. DoD and the CIA are also reviewing new approaches to better integrate and balance the vast data stream of intelligence, from imagery and signals to human intelligence.

Another major R&D effort is the Defense Satellite Communications System (DSCS), which will provide warfighters with wideband, anti-jam communications capability for both strategic and tactical command, control and communications. In fiscal 1999, DoD has requested $126.8 million for the DSCS program, which is managed by the Army. The Pentagon also hopes to spend $550.9 million for the continuing deployment of its MILSTAR satellite communications constellation.

In the realm of reconnaissance and surveillance, the Defense Airborne Reconnaissance Office continues to acquire a family of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) to allow commanders to conduct continuous overhead surveillance in all weather conditions. The UAVs are equipped with various sensors, including synthetic aperture radars, forward-looking infrared radars and wide-area search moving target indicators. In fiscal 1999 the Pentagon would like to spend $619.8 million on three different UAVs: the DarkStar (high altitude, stealthy), Global Hawk (high altitude) and Predator (medium altitude).

DoD is also continuing to develop and acquire the E-8C Joint Surveillance Target Attack Radar System (Joint STARS) aircraft to detect and target moving and fixed enemy ground targets behind the forward edge of battle. DoD has requested $654.4 million in fiscal 1999 funding for Joint STARS, which is produced by Northrop Grumman using a Boeing 707 aircraft platform.

Precision Strike

The Joint Chiefs of Staff have identified precision strike as integral to the revolution in military affairs and an area ripe for continued advanced research. The capability to destroy selected targets with precision, while limiting collateral damage, is dependent on a host of advanced technologies, including precision-guided munitions, surveillance, targeting and "sensor-to-shooter" C4I capabilities.

One key attribute of a precision strike force is stealth technology that makes aircraft and weapons all but invisible to enemy radar. The United States currently has the stealthy F-117 fighter and B-2 bomber in the inventory, and is in the process of developing the stealthy F-22 air superiority fighter.

All of these aircraft rely on advanced low-observable coatings to reduce their radar signatures. Such coatings represent a low-cost, highly adaptive approach to making U.S. aircraft harder to detect. In fact, the House National Security Committee was so impressed by the technology that earlier this year it added $21 million to the administration's fiscal 1999 request of $9 million for development of advanced low-observable coatings.

Precision-guided munitions in the Pentagon's fiscal 1999 budget include the Joint Standoff Weapon ($265.9 million), Joint Air-to-Surface Standoff Missile ($135 million) and the Brilliant Anti-Armor Submunition ($183.5 million).

Stockpile Stewardship

The largest defense-related R&D project is not actually managed by the Pentagon. Under the auspices of the Department of Energy, the Los Alamos, Lawrence Livermore and Sandia national laboratories are managing the Stockpile Stewardship program to ensure the reliability and safety of the nuclear weapons stockpile without the benefit of nuclear testing. (See "Fallout," May, at www.govexec.com/features/0598s1.htm)

The premise behind Stockpile Stewardship is to deconstruct the complex phenomenon of a nuclear chain reaction. To shed light on each component of a chain reaction, the Energy Department is funding a series of very expensive experimental facilities that, taken together, represent the largest scientific project in the world.

Facilities under construction include the $1.2 billion National Ignition Facility to attempt to achieve fusion ignition; an $81 million giant X-ray called the Dual-Axis Radiographic Hydrodynamic Test Facility for photographing high-explosive phenomena; a $1 billion project to develop a supercomputer that operates 100 times faster than today's fastest computer; and, potentially, a $3 billion particle accelerator for producing tritium, an essential ingredient of modern nuclear weapons.

All told, the administration requested $4.5 billion in fiscal 1999 for Stockpile Stewardship and related programs. Both the House and Senate 1999 Defense authorization bills, however, called for significant cuts ($401 million and $379 million, respectively) in DOE's request of $12.3 billion for defense activities.

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