The president’s fiscal year 2019 budget request for the Defense Department includes large funding increases for late-stage technology development, prototyping, and testing activities. Funding for earlier-stage Science and Technology programs would remain generally steady, with a substantial increase slated for the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency.
President Trump’s fiscal year 2019 budget request would provide over $90 billion for the Department of Defense’s Research, Development, Test, and Evaluation (RDT&E) accounts. That level would return spending to the post-Cold War peak last seen almost a decade ago, and would be a hefty increase over the $72 billion that Congress enacted for fiscal year 2017. It is also significantly more than the $83 billion that the administration proposed for fiscal year 2018.
These budget increases are all concentrated in the accounts that fund late-stage development, prototyping, and testing activities. That prioritization is consistent with the department’s recent focus on transitioning cutting-edge technologies into successful acquisition programs. At his confirmation hearing last month, Under Secretary of Defense for Research and Engineering Mike Griffin, who was sworn in Feb. 20, similarly stressed the importance of prototyping and testing.
DOD’s three early-stage Science and Technology accounts — Basic Research, Applied Research, and Advanced Technology Development — would be funded at $13.7 billion. That is a 2 percent decrease from what Congress appropriated for fiscal year 2017, albeit about $500 million more than the administration requested for fiscal year 2018.
White House spotlights strategic technologies, boosts DARPA
The administration’s support for late-stage defense R&D activities is a major exception to its general policy of prioritizing early-stage research. The ramp up in late-stage spending would make DOD S&T spending less than 15 percent of total RDT&E spending — a record low proportion for recent history, though total S&T spending would not be at an atypical level for the past 20 years.
Spotlight on hypersonics, missile defense, electronics. The White House analysis of R&D spending in its budget request spotlights DOD spending on hypersonic propulsion and missile defense. It notes that the administration is seeking about $6.8 billion for R&D efforts at the Missile Defense Agency, or $576 million more than was enacted in fiscal year 2017. The analysis also observes that “DOD is the centerpiece of a government-wide effort to out-innovate competitors and bolster the U.S. engineering and design communities in the area of trusted microelectronics, semiconductors, and future computing.” It specifically identifies the Electronics Resurgence Initiative that the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency established last year to invest in chip innovation.
DARPA boosted. Within S&T spending, the budget request is in general highly favorable to DARPA. The administration is seeking over $3.4 billion for the agency, $268 million more than it sought for fiscal year 2018. DARPA received $2.9 billion in fiscal year 2017 appropriations.
Service branch S&T spending decreased. While the administration is proposing an expansion in funding across all defense-wide S&T programs, which include DARPA, it is seeking less funding for programs administered by the service branches. In particular, the administration continues to propose a funding level for Army S&T that is about 22 percent below what congressional appropriators have been providing. Proposed funding for S&T for the Navy and Air Force is closer to current congressional proposals but still lower than currently enacted levels.
DOD’s official budget documents are available here. For further information about current science funding proposals, including service-level proposals for each DOD S&T account, see the Federal Science Budget Tracker at the FYI website.
Support steady for basic research, STEM programs, and innovation initiatives
Defense Research Sciences. Defense Research Sciences, totaling about $1.5 billion across the service branches and defense-wide accounts, would see a 2 percent increase over fiscal year 2017 enacted levels. The accounts, with include both in-house and extramural components, support the development of fundamental scientific knowledge and new technologies intended to contribute to U.S. defense superiority and meet long-term national security needs.
University Research Initiatives. Aggregated across service branches, funding for University Research Initiatives would remain virtually unchanged at about $341 million. The account supports extramural defense research, instrumentation, and education programs, such as the Multidisciplinary University Research Initiative (MURI), the Defense University Research Instrumentation Program (DURIP), and the Presidential Early Career Awards for Scientists and Engineers (PECASE).
Basic Research Initiatives. Consistent with prior years’ requests, the administration is seeking about $43 million for Basic Research Initiatives, which would include a funding increase for the Vannevar Bush Faculty Fellowship program. Congress has funded this account at closer to $70 million in fiscal years 2016 and 2017, which has allowed the DOD Basic Research Office to establish two new specialized grant programs: the Laboratory University Collaboration Initiative, and the Defense Enterprise Science Initiative. The administration does not specify new funding for those programs in its request.
National Defense Education Program. In line with plans laid out in prior years’ budget requests, the administration is pushing funding for the National Defense Education Program upward, requesting $86 million. Its budget was $77 million in fiscal year 2017. NDEP supports DOD’s STEM Development Office, which operates a set of programs that aim to support the development of STEM talent and increase the attractiveness of DOD as a workplace for STEM graduates.
Minority-Serving Institutions. With a request of over $30 million, administration support is growing for DOD’s program supporting Historically Black Colleges and Universities and Minority-Serving Institutions. In recent years, Congress has been funding the program at $10 million above requested levels, bringing the program’s budget closer to $35 million.
Strategic Capabilities Office. The rapid growth of the Strategic Capabilities Office would continue under the budget request, reaching over $1.4 billion. The office, which develops innovative applications of available and near-term technologies, is currently funded at about $850 million. It is also undergoing significant organizational change. Previously placed within the Defense Secretary’s office, it is set to be incorporated into the organization overseen by the new under secretary for research and engineering. In addition, its founding director, physicist Will Roper, has been confirmed by the Senate as the new assistant secretary of the Air Force for acquisition.
Defense Innovation Unit Experimental. The administration is again seeking about $29 million for the Defense Innovation Unit Experimental in Advanced Technology Development funds. DIUx has three offices in regional technology hubs that endeavor to establish contracts with universities and innovation-focused companies that do not traditionally engage with DOD. Although DOD has heavily promoted the initiative, House appropriators have been slow to warm to it. Like SCO, DIUx is being folded into the new under secretary’s organization.
(Update: DOD also plans to allocate over $40 million in Operations and Maintenance funding to DIUx, a substantial increase over the $24 million planned for fiscal year 2018. Congress does not appropriate O&M funds to DIUx through a distinct line item.)