Defense Must Sustain Investment in Basic Research

Article excerpt

ONE OF THE MAINSTAY SOURCES OF strength of the U.S. military is its ability to continually generate new technologies, both for current and future battlefields.

Key to this technological edge is the steady investment the Defense Department has made during the past decades in research and development. Few could deny that the combination of defense, industry and research and development resources have made this nation the leader in military technology, much of which has been spun into civilian areas that have benefited our entire society.

R&D spending at the Defense Department and other government agencies remains relatively healthy for the near future. But long-term projections show some troubling signs that the government's financial commitment to science and technology may plateau and possibly contract.

A most telling picture emerges from the latest R&D forecast by the American Association for the Advancement of Science. The author, Kei Koizumi, notes that after several years of growth, defense R&D will level off and decline in the years ahead. Pentagon projections show total Defense Department R&D falling from $72.5 billion this year down to $71.2 billion in 2011--a slight cut even before inflation, but an 11.6 percent fall after expected inflation, Koizumi says. R&D budgets at the Department of Homeland Security would also fall after spectacular recent gains, losing ground by 4.6 percent in real terms by 2011.

In the fiscal year 2007 budget, Defense Department R&D will continue to reach new highs with a $1.6 billion or 2.2 percent increase to $74.1 billion. The problem here is that the entire increase, and more, would go to weapons development programs, while science and basic research are expected to shrink.

The Pentagon would slash science and technology investments by 18.6 percent or $2.6 billion, down to $11.2 billion. S&T includes basic research, applied research, medical research and technology development.

Spending on weapons development programs, meanwhile, would jump by $4.2 billion, to $62.9 billion. These programs--which belong in the 6.4 and higher R&D categories--include engineering, development and testing of weapons systems. AAAS cites the joint strike fighter as the largest single development project in the Defense Department, which received $4 billion in 2007.

The Defense Department's support of basic and applied research would fall in fiscal year 2007, predicts Koizumi. Basic research (6.1) would fall 3.3 percent to $1.4 billion. Applied research (6.2) would drop by 13.4 percent to $4.5 billion.

As noted by Jules Duga, a senior research analyst at Battelle, R&D increasingly is viewed more as a luxury than an investment. …