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February 11, 2016

Study to Assess Threats to U.S. Military Technological Superiority

A group of senators, after receiving a classified briefing, got spooked that maybe the Pentagon wasn’t taking seriously enough the notion that other countries are starting to tailgate the U.S. military on technology. So now they’re ordering a study “to examine the potential specific challenges to U.S. military technological superiority within the next 10 years, and the specific planned responses by the Department of Defense (DOD) to meet these challenges.”

At the same time, the department’s basic research funding is in danger of dropping.

The Senate Armed Services Committee report on its annual defense policy bill, released last week, notes that it contains a provision asking the Defense Science Board or another independent group to conduct the study.

The report quotes department officials, including Secretary Chuck Hagel, as being aware of the threat, with Hagel saying “the development and proliferation of more advanced military technology by other nations means we are entering an era where American dominance of the seas, in the sky, and in space can no longer be taken for granted.”

But after the Subcommittee on Emerging Threats and Capabilities — led by Chairwoman Kay Hagan, D-N.C. and top Republican Deb Fischer of Nebraska — got a classified briefing, followed by some staff briefings, they weren’t so sure the department was on top of the risk.

“As a result of these briefings, the committee is concerned that DOD has not adequately placed a priority on providing resources to programs that can address situations in which U.S. military capabilities will not be technically superior to those which may be potentially fielded by global peer adversaries,” the report states. “Further, the committee is concerned that only minimal efforts have been made to redirect military service and defense agency programs from legacy efforts into new programs better aligned to meet these near term emerging threats.”

Organizations like the Association of American Universities, meanwhile, are worried about a proposed cut in the department’s basic research budget, and how the House Appropriations Committee’s defense spending bill, approved Tuesday, didn’t mitigate the administration’s proposal very much. An estimated 1,500 grants are on the chopping block. By one accounting, the department accounted for more than 12 percent of universities’ federal research budget, a figure that has climbed from 8 percent since 2002.

Although some are freaked out by what university projects the department is funding. (For recent news on other projects in that program, see here and here.)

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