By Cheryl Pellerin
DoD News, Defense Media Activity
WASHINGTON, April 24, 2015 – The Defense Department has maintained a steady $12 billion investment in science and technology and is using new initiatives to boost innovation and military superiority, defense officials told a Senate panel April 22.
Frank Kendall, undersecretary of defense for acquisition, technology and logistics, testified before the Senate Appropriations defense subcommittee on the DoD budget request for fiscal year 2016.
Joining him were Alan Shaffer, acting assistant secretary of defense for development, research and engineering, and Steven Walker, deputy director of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, or DARPA.
The department’s science and technology budget request for fiscal year 2016 is $12.2 billion, Kendall said.
“Over the last several years we have maintained, despite all the budget fluctuations, a fairly steady investment in terms of technology,” he said.
The department is committed to pursuing innovation in all its dimensions, said Kendall, adding that Defense Secretary Ash Carter endorsed the Defense Innovation Initiative unveiled last fall, and yesterday at Stanford University the secretary announced steps the department will take to foster innovation.
Kendall’s efforts cover the broader DoD acquisition enterprise, and two weeks ago he announced final details and implementation guidance for Better Buying Power 3.0.
“The Better Buying Power label originated when Dr. Carter was undersecretary for acquisition, technology and logistics … but it’s really a collection of initiatives that has evolved over time,” Kendall said.
Improving DoD Acquisition
The initiatives are designed to incrementally improve the acquisition system’s performance, he said.
The acquisition system includes not only major DoD programs, Kendall said, “but everything — all the things we contract out for, all the things the department acquires … and services are more than half of the things we contract out for. And it certainly includes our science and technology investments.”
Kendall said the most recent version focuses on innovation, technical excellence and technological superiority, and on taking steps to spur innovation and get the greatest value from research and development and from new innovation sources.
The efforts, he added, include science and technology accounts, DARPA’s budget, the work of DoD labs, contracted research and development, reimbursable independent research and development conducted by industry, the Small Business Innovation Research Program, and others.
Several BBP 3.0 provisions are designed to incentivize industry, Kendall said.
“One of them is … to tell industry how much we’re willing to pay for enhanced performance,” he said.
Normally when the department asks for a weapon system proposal, it sets a level of threshold performance that is the minimum it will accept, Kendall explained. DoD also sets an objective -– the performance it desires and that comes with a higher price, he said.
“Industry almost uniformly bids to the threshold level and ignores the objective because the threshold level is always cheaper,” he added, noting, “It’s less capable and that goes with [the lower] cost.”
The undersecretary said the department is starting to communicate to industry “how much more we’re willing to pay for that higher level of performance. Industry can then make an informed judgment about whether or not to invest in technology that will get to that level of performance.”
Without that information, Kendall said, there’s no incentive for industry.
More Creative Products
“We’re trying to involve industry earlier-on in concept definition and requirements formulation so we have an interaction with industry.” Kendall said. “We give industry a head start … to work on how they would satisfy our requirements.”
In general, he added, “we’re trying to align our financial incentive structure with the things we want. In this case, what we want is innovation — more creative, more capable products that we can get to the warfighter.”
In his remarks, Shaffer said his office has revised the way it plans and executes the science and technology program through Reliance 21.
Reliance 21 is “an oversight construct that has created communities of interest, bringing scientists working in specific technology areas together to jointly plan and execute their departmentwide program in a more effective way,” he said.
Shaffer said his office also is directly involved in the Defense Innovation Initiative and in many specific initiatives under BBP 3.0.
He said the DII is a departmentwide effort to identify and invest in novel ways to sustain and advance military superiority for the 21st century and improve business operations.
Under BBP 3.0, he said, “we are more tightly coupling acquisition requirements and the intelligence community to more dynamically adjust to changes in potential threats,” and addressing barriers to adopting commercial technology in systems and capabilities.
Shaffer said his office is increasing its use of prototypes and experimentation departmentwide to reduce technical risk early in a program cycle and to see how systems will operate. The office also is expanding the use of modular open-systems architecture to stimulate innovation.
In his remarks to the panel, Walker said DARPA’s role is to make early pivotal investments that help develop breakthrough technologies for national security.
Walker highlighted two programs that DARPA is working on with the Air Force, both in hypersonics –- referring to a flow of air with a Mach number greater than five. This means the flow speed is more than five times the speed of sound, he explained.
One program is the Tactical Boost Glide system, Walker said.
This DARPA-Air Force effort will develop and demonstrate technologies to enable air-launched tactical-range hypersonic boost glide systems, including a flight demonstration.
Basically, Walker said, “you boost it with a rocket and glide the system to the target.”
The second DARPA-Air Force effort is the Hypersonic Air-breathing Weapon Concept, designed to enable transformational changes in responsive, long-range strike against time-critical or heavily defended targets.
“You also boost that concept,” Walker said, “that you then take over with the air-breathing scramjet engine on board and that also hits its target.”
This program, according to DARPA, seeks to advance air vehicle configurations capable of efficient hypersonic flight, enhance hydrocarbon scramjet-powered propulsion to enable sustained hypersonic cruise, develop affordable system designs and manufacturing approaches, and more.
“What [hypersonic speeds] buy you is a strike capability for time-critical targets from long-standoff ranges,” Walker said.
“If we can pull that hypersonic technology into a weapon-system concept … at the end of these programs the Air Force would be ready to go off into an acquisition program on those systems — potentially, if we’re successful. That’s really the future,” he added.
The Sequestration Threat
During the hearing, Kendall told the panel that one threat to U.S. military superiority is “one of our own making. It is the threat of sequestration.”
In the fiscal year 2016 DoD budget request, the department is asking for funding that is well above sequestration levels, he said.
“We are trying to recover some of the readiness that was lost when sequestration was implemented in 2013. We are also trying to acquire some of the capability we need to maintain to remain competitive,” said Kendall, adding that the department is requesting increases in its investment accounts, research and development, and procurement, of about $20 billion.
“Sequestration would force us to prioritize pressing near-term needs at the expense of these investments, preserving capability now but increasing our risk in the future,” he said, adding that uncertainties about future budgets make effective planning nearly impossible.
“We urge you to permanently repeal the threat of sequestration,” Kendall told the senators. “Removing this specter would do more than any other single act to spur innovation and preserve our military technological superiority.”