Defense IT

Where DOD's R&D funds would go in 2017

The Defense Department has put a lot of emphasis lately on the importance of cyberspace, electronic warfare and new technologies, and that emphasis is reflected in its 2017 budget request for research and development. DOD as a whole is asking for $72 billion in R&D to, in Defense Secretary Ashton Carter’s words, “make sure that we retain the qualitative edge in capabilities -- advanced capabilities.”  He mentioned, specifically by name, “undersea capabilities, electronic warfare, space, cyber, new kinds of strike systems, increasing the lethality of our fleet of aircraft and … ships, and so forth.” 

The individual service branches also are investing in R&D in those areas, according to budget documents released last week:


The Army is asking for a total of $7.5 billion from the overall budget request of $148 billion. The request is very similar to last year’s, Maj. Gen. Thomas Horlander, director for Army budget, told reporters this week.

Of the $7.5 billion, he said $2.2 billion will go to science and technology. Initiatives listed under these categories include funding to refine concepts and key technologies for future ground vehicles, demonstrating feasibility of development of an affordable medium-lift aircraft, as well as continued investment in high-energy laser technology to defeat airborne threats ranging from mortars to UAVs.

Horlander also the Army is requesting almost $75 million for cyber operations “to advance and deploy cyberspace and electromagnetic capabilities. This will ensure the security of Army systems and networks and exploit cyber vulnerabilities in adversarial systems and networks.”


The Navy is requesting $17.4 billion for R&D out of its total budget of $164.9 billion. Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Navy for Budget Rear Adm. William Lescher told reporters this week that the Unmanned Carrier-launched Airborne Surveillance and Strike (UCLASS) review class programs will be restructured in fiscal 2017 to bring fixed-wing capabilities to the carrier air wing by the mid-2020s, including ISR, and “targeting limited strike and tanking.” 

The Navy is not asking for any funds associated with the high-profile (and much debated) UCLASS program, but is transitioning the program to an aerial refueling vehicle. The new program, called the Carrier Based Aerial Refueling System, or CBARS, will essentially use the same design as UCLASS, Liescher said.     

“This program increases air wing capability by freeing strike aircraft in a combat mission via its refueling missions, preserving strike fighter fatigue life while enhancing the long endurance capability of the air wing,” Lescher said.

Lescher added that $150 million has been requested for “technology maturation and unmanned undersea vehicles leading to increased endurance, payload hosting, and payload delivery capability.”

On the cyber front, the Navy’s budget includes an increase of $370 million over the next few years across the cyber spectrum that will “lead to significant improvements in the department's cyber posture.”

Air Force

The Air Force is requesting approximately $26 billion, which is roughly 60 percent of its investment programs, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Budget Maj. Gen. James F. Martin Jr. told reporters. The Air Force’s total budget request comes in at $166.9 billion.

Martin stressed the importance on R&D efforts to remain dominant around the world. “Just imagine our world without GPS. As our competitors continue to close the capability gap, we simply can't afford to let them catch up,” he said. “Because of this, we increased funding by $1.6 billion from what we requested in [fiscal 2016]. This represents a two-year increase of $3.6 billion.”

Other Priorities:

The military is also looking into other programs to line up with its Third Offset Strategy, maintain technological superiority and beat back adversaries that have invested heavily in advanced systems.  The Third Offset Strategy is described as countering or offsetting technological advances of U.S. foes. DOD has asked for $35 million to go toward the Third Offset, according to budget documents provided by the comptroller’s office. DOD also is asking for $902 million for the Strategic Capabilities office – a unit designed to identify, analyze, demonstrate and transition “game-changing” applications of technologies – in parallel with the Third Offset. 

As such, DOD is looking to embrace the technological boom and cozy up to the tech hubs located in Silicon Valley. One of the recent initiatives announced by DOD last year was the establishment of a new Silicon Valley outpost called the Defense Innovation Unit-Experimental, or DIUx, a partnership designed to foment emerging technologies to the defense sector. DOD is requesting $45 million for DIUx as well as $40 million for In-Q-Tel, a non-profit venture capital firm (in fact, DOD’s recently appointed deputy assistant secretary of defense for cyber policy, Aaron Hughes, was the vice president of In-Q-Tel).

Electronic warfare and electromagnetic spectrum operations are another big area for research and development. Nations such as Russia have invested significantly in these capabilities and many grim assessments have put the U.S. far behind in this field.

According to Army budget documents, (p.27), it is asking for a total of $142 million in procurement funds for electronic warfare. “To address the growing cyber threats, we are requesting almost $75 million for Army cyber efforts to advance and deploy cyberspace and electromagnetic capabilities,” Horlander said. “This will ensure the security of Army systems and networks and exploit cyber vulnerabilities in adversarial systems and networks.”

The Navy’s request has asked for funds to go toward network programs and detection systems, such as the Surface Electronic Warfare Improvement program, to protect from anti-ship missiles and provide a capability that will be “integral to our electromagnetic maneuver warfare dominance,” Lescher said.    

Electronic warfare R&D funds would go toward programs that include sensors, electronics and electronic warfare, electromagnetic railguns, electromagnetic systems applied research and electronic warfare technology.

The Air Force has said that it is asking for funds to maintain the EC-130 H Compass Call, an aircraft that, as a means of “meet[ing] current operational capacity…for increased electronic warfare capability,” as well as operational and maintenance funds for ISR, electronic and irregular warfare.

About the Author

Mark Pomerleau is a former editorial fellow with GCN and Defense Systems.

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