DOD acquisition chief forecasts R&D cuts

The Defense Department needs a more "balanced approach" to reducing its force structure to avoid even deeper cuts to investment accounts like research and development, DOD's acquisition chief warned.

Frank Kendall, undersecretary of defense for acquisition, technology and logistics, told an aerospace industry conference that "the driving factor in our planning is the size of our force structure. Everything flows from that." 

Budget uncertainty likely means "the tendency is going to be to hold onto force structure with the hope that we can retain it," Kendall added. What is needed instead is a "balanced approach" that preserves investment accounts like R&D and procurement. Failing to find the right balance between force structure and modernization could result in a "hollow force," Kendall warned.

"What I think you will probably see us doing is taking steps to start to bring [force structure] down," he continued. Retaining more force structure than DOD can afford means that other investment accounts like R&D and procurement "have to pay the bills."

Several factors are combining to threaten modernization, included the slow pace of force structure reductions and a pay freeze rather than pay cuts for military personnel. Kendall predicted that could results in steep reductions to R&D and procurement as high as 20 percent.

"The one that makes me most nervous is R&D," he added, arguing that R&D ought to be considered as a "fix cost" within DOD's budget. R&D is not a function of the size of the force structure, Kendall asserted.

The services are slowly coming to grips with the need to reduce force structure. For instance, Army officials said they would seek to restructure the service's aviation fleet by consolidating assets like its aerial intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance fleet in a signal location. The savings would then be used to invest in new multi-mode sensors and unmanned vehicles.

The fiscal 2015 federal budget request is scheduled to be released on about March 4.

About the Author

George Leopold is a contributing editor for Defense Systems and author of Calculated Risk: The Supersonic Life and Times of Gus Grissom."Connect with him on Twitter at @gleopold1.

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