With R&D budgets, high risk has its rewards
- By Joey Cheng
- Mar 10, 2014
The Pentagon’s planned cutbacks in troop levels and some weapons programs is being balanced by a focus on research and development, something reflected in the request to increase funding for the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency’s R&D efforts for fiscal 2015.
The 2015 budget proposal requests $2.915 billion for the agency, a $136 million increase from fiscal 2014. Between fiscal 2009 and 2013, the DARPA budget had been reduced 20 percent as a result of cuts and sequestration. The 2014 budget had already restored $199 million.
The increase would allow DARPA to invest in more vital areas the will improves national security, DARPA Director Arati Prabhakar said. The agency plans on advancing biology as a technology, rethinking complex military systems, and capitalizing on information at scale. The budget increase will also allow the agency to restore funding for its basic research portfolio.
The increases come as a part of an initiative to focus on higher risk, higher reward opportunities.
“Although we’re protecting technology, we want to go ahead and invest in a few big bets,” Defense Department R&D chief Al Shaffer said, speaking at the Aviation Week Defense Technologies and Requirements conference in Arlington, Va., shortly before budget documents were officially released, as reported by Defense News. “Coming out of the Vietnam War we invested in stealth. Coming out of the Cold War we invested very heavily in missile defense. So it’s really looking at what areas are we going to invest in to prepare for the future.”
By protecting the investments in places such as DARPA, which are more willing to tolerate risk and failure, DOD is working toward becoming more risk tolerant. However, those investments may come at the expense of R&D departments in the military services.
The overall research, development, test and evaluation (RDT&E) budget gained an increase of a little more than $400 million, an increase of less than 1 percent from the previous year. Most programs actually saw a decline in funding.
The Navy was able to increase its RDT&E budget by 9 percent by asking for $3.2 billion less in procurement funding. The Army’s RDT&E budget, meanwhile, dropped about $500 million, and the Air Force had only a marginal increase of $150 million.
Joey Cheng is an editorial fellow with Defense Systems.