Despite fiscal uncertainty, science and technology remain critical elements in mitigating emerging threats against the United States, a Defense Department official told Congress April 16.
Alan Shaffer, the acting assistant secretary of defense for research and engineering, pledged to continue a focus on programs such as electronic warfare, counter-space, cyber, and counter-weapons of mass destruction to meet U.S. national security goals.
“The challenge is clear. The president and the secretary of defense depend on defense research and engineering to make key contributions to the defense of our nation,” Shaffer told the House Armed Services Committee’s subcommittee on intelligence, emerging threats and capabilities.
Science and technology should mitigate new and emerging capabilities that could degrade U.S. security, he said, while enabling new or extended capabilities in existing military platforms and systems.
Defense Department science and technology researchers, systems engineers and developmental test and evaluation personnel also strive to develop “technology surprise” through science and engineering applications to military problems, Shaffer said.
“Together, the professional scientists and engineers conceive, develop and mature systems early in the acquisition process,” he added.
The Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps and allied personnel work with industry and international partners, academia and other government agencies to provide unmatched, operational advantage to the warfighter, Shaffer said.
“When we look at the capabilities developed and delivered by these people during the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, I contend the nation has received good return on investment,” he said. Notable successes, he added, include mine-resistant, ambush-protected vehicles, persistent threat-detection systems and use of multispectral imagery to remotely detect explosives.
“These three alone greatly increased the safety of our deployed force,” Shaffer said. “We met the demands of an armed force at war.”
But as the drawdown in Afghanistan continues, uncertainty looms in national security and budget environments, creating reductions that will rattle some programs, Shaffer said.
“It is not possible to discuss the (fiscal 2013 and 2014) budgets without addressing the impact of the sequester,” he said, noting cuts of about 9 percent from each of DOD’s programs and program lines.
The president’s fiscal 2014 budget request for Defense Department science and technology is $12 billion, a nominal increase from the $11.9 billion requested in 2013, he added.
“This reduction will result in delay or termination of efforts,” Shaffer said. “We will reduce awards.”
For instance, he said, DOD will reduce university grants this year by roughly $200 million, and potentially could reduce the number of new science, mathematics and research for transformation, or SMART, scholarships in fiscal 2013 to zero.
“Because of the way the sequester was implemented, we will be very limited in hiring new scientists this year,” he said. “Each of these actions will have a negative, long-term impact on the department and national security.”
Budgetary pressures exist, as do new challenges, Shaffer said, adding that DOD leadership has made a strategic choice to protect science and technology where possible.
“We did this to provide options for the future as well as meet new challenges that have technological dimensions,” he said.
The challenges, he added, include instability in nations such as Syria, which has weapons of mass destruction that could fall out of state control. He also cited persistent concerns over North Korean nuclear weapons with the means to deliver them, and the emergence of sophisticated anti-access, area-denial capabilities in a number of nations.
Emerging threats, he said, also include cyber exploitation and attack and the increased sophistication of advanced electronic attack capabilities of potential adversaries.
“The department’s research and engineering program is faced with the same challenges as the rest of the DOD,” Shaffer said.