Report to Congress on Global R&D Implications for the Pentagon

November 20, 2018 12:27 PM

The following is the Nov. 8, 2018 Congressional Research Service report The Global Research and Development Landscape and Implications for the Department of Defense.

From the report:

For more than 70 years, the technological superiority of the United States military has offset the size and geographic advantages of potential adversaries. The Department of Defense (DOD), due in large part to the magnitude of its investments in research and development (R&D), has driven the global R&D and technology landscape. However, DOD and the federal government more broadly are no longer overriding funders of R&D, and this shift in support for R&D has substantial implications for how DOD obtains advanced technology and maintains the battlefield overmatch that technology has historically provided.

In 1960, the United States accounted for 69% of global R&D, with U.S. defense-related R&D alone accounting for more than one-third of global R&D (36%). Additionally, the federal government funded approximately twice as much R&D as U.S. business. However, from 1960 to 2016, the U.S. share of global R&D fell to 28%, and the federal government’s share of total U.S. R&D fell from 65% to 24%, while business’s share more than doubled from 33% to 67%. As a result of these global, national, and federal trends, federal defense R&D’s share of total global R&D fell to 3.7% in 2016. This decline resulted primarily from more rapid increases in the R&D of other nations (public and private) and partially from increases in U.S. business R&D and federal nondefense R&D.

Some defense experts and policymakers have recognized the shift in the global R&D landscape and the need for DOD to rely increasingly on technologies developed by commercial companies for commercial markets. Among the challenges DOD faces in acquiring new, innovative technologies and maintaining U.S. military technical superiority are

  • developing/modifying organizations and business models to access this technology;
  • adapting the DOD business culture to seek and embrace technologies developed outside of DOD, the United States, and its traditional contractor base; and
  • finding ways to adapt and leverage commercial technologies for defense applications.

Congress plays a central role in how DOD creates and acquires leading-edge technologies, including establishing and refining the organizational structure of DOD R&D activities, providing policy direction, establishing acquisition policies and authorities, and appropriating funds for R&D and innovation-related activities. Congress and the Administration have undertaken a number of actions to address the perceived decline in technical superiority, including

  • establishing the position of the Under Secretary of Defense for Research and Engineering to coordinate DOD’s research enterprise, drive the development of key technologies, and create a more agile and innovative department;
  • increasing DOD collaboration and engagement with industry and academia. For example, DOD has increased its presence in U.S. commercial technology hubs through the Defense Innovation Unit, established partnership intermediary agreements with various organizations, and co-located DOD research and development personnel at partner institutions across the country; and
  • working to alter the culture of DOD to increase the speed technologies are developed, adapted, and acquired, including through the use of other transaction authority.

As DOD implements these reform efforts congressional oversight may include monitoring how effectively DOD is addressing congressional directives and intent to create a more risk tolerant and innovative DOD.

Sam LaGrone

Sam LaGrone

Sam LaGrone is the editor of USNI News. He has covered legislation, acquisition and operations for the Sea Services since 2009 and spent time underway with the U.S. Navy, U.S. Marine Corps and the Canadian Navy.
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