DoD: Infotech Is the Future

The Defense Department's new research and development strategy breaks with tradition, and sets its sights on computers and dual-use

The Department of Defense has broken with tradition in its latest research and development forecast, changing its focus on "critical technologies" to the question of maintaining technological superiority with shrinking budgets.

"The way we acquire technology must change," said Deputy Secretary of Defense John Deutch. "We are looking for affordable technologies."

On Oct. 5, the Pentagon released its Defense Science and Technology strategy and an accompanying science and technology plan, which chart the course of military R&D investments into the next century. The documents reflect the "technocrat" approach of Defense Secretary William Perry and his No. 2 John Deutch, favoring infotech and dual-use as tools for the job.

The new strategy is tightly tied to five key war-fighting capabilities set by the newly powerful Joint Requirements Oversight Council, headed by Adm. William Owens.

Topping the Council's list is the need for "near perfect, real-time knowledge" of enemy forces through advanced communications. Consequently, the new strategy makes info-tech research a top priority, followed by modeling and simulation, and sensors.

"Advanced information architectures... (are) a distinctly U.S. advantage. (They) must be exploited," said the report.

The Pentagon is also looking to information technologies -- particularly modeling -- to make development of new capabilities affordable, which is not a new idea.

"We need to use technology to reduce the cost of systems," said Anita Jones, director of Defense Research and Engineering.

The accompanying Defense Technology Plan does outline 23 crucial technology areas and future budget outlays. (See chart.) The overall Pentagon research, development, test and evaluation budget is flat for fiscal 1995 at $35.6 billion.

However, that plateau will give way toward the end of the decade as budgets decline, according to the plan.The RDT&E account funds projects from basic research to early demonstration prototypes.

Infotech cuts across many of the 23 areas:

  • In computing and software,the Pentagon will focus on six sectors: system software, systems development, intelligent systems, user interface, architecture and networking. Funding request for fiscal 95: $494 million, up $55 million from last year.

  • Command, control and communications, the heart of battlefield management, got $157 million in fiscal 1994 and will see increases through fiscal 1997. The Pentagon wants a seamless system but will depend more on commercial off-the-shelf components in the future. The DoD also wants to achieve cost savings of 25 to 40 percent on C3 systems in the next five years.

  • Electronics remain a high priority, with radio- frequency components, electro-optics, microelectronics and materials leading the way. Fiscal 1994 expenditures were $771 million and the yearly investment will remain steady through the end of the century.

  • Battlespace environments technology will include atmospheric modeling and prediction, terrain digitization and more. Investments were $271 million in fiscal 1994, but the budget is slated to shrink.

  • Simulation received $325 million in fiscal 1994, but investment in this area will drop dramatically in the coming years. Only architecture research will see gains.

With almost all budgets facing decline, Pentagon research planners are placing heavy emphasis on dual-use products that rely on an integrated civilian and military industrial base.

Both the strategy report and the technology plan make steady reference to dual-use payoffs for military systems.

But the dual-use strategy has yet to prove itself. A forthcoming study from the congressional Office of Technology Assessment says civil and military integration can work, but will lead to less cost savings than anticipated.

In the meantime, Jones says the DoD will team more with industry and seek better and cheaper ways to stay a step ahead of future enemies.

"We are in competition with the best technology in the global arms market," she said.

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