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What's Wrong With the US Defense R&D Budget? 225

Posted by samzenpus
from the loosest-sense dept.
Harperdog writes "Here's an in-depth analysis of what constitutes defense R&D spending and how some of those projects are classified. From the article: 'But much of what transpires in the name of military research and development is not research in the sense that it produces scientific and technical knowledge widely applicable inside and outside the Defense Department. A large part of defense R&D activity revolves around building very expensive gadgets that are often based on unsound technology and frequently fail to perform as required.'"
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What's Wrong With the US Defense R&D Budget?

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  • whats really wrong (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday December 29, 2011 @08:12PM (#38533360)

    The majority of the funding goes to ridiculous rules, regulations and policy's in the DoD. There's no incentive to be efficient but tons of politics to set rules. So to buy a computer mouse, it has to go through a 5 level approval process all the way back to DC and takes 2 months. I wish I was joking.

  • Well... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by jamstar7 (694492) on Thursday December 29, 2011 @08:13PM (#38533372)
    It's all about scamming up those DoD contracts. Who cares if they ever deliver a viable weapon system, they can make payroll with feasibility studies all day long. The most hillarious of the 'urban legend' proposals I ever heard of was a couple physicists talking at a party during the Ronny Ray-Gun years, when 'Star Wars' funding was damned near bottomless. Their idea was, develop a tachyon beam weapon, deployed in space, that would shoot down enemy missiles 20 minutes before they were launched.

    Rumor has it, they copped a cool 50 mil for a feasibility study before somebody at the Five-Sided Funny Farm figured it out.
  • by BobandMax (95054) on Thursday December 29, 2011 @09:37PM (#38534240)

    Mr. Ghoshroy has a long record of disagreement with Defense contractors and programs. I am not saying that he is wrong on this one. However, other people do say that he is. To accept Mr. Ghoshroy's assertions without adequate rebuttal or background knowledge is, well, ignant. Note also that Mr. Ghoshroy has been very happy to allow some well known anti-defense agitators to exploit him in the name of making his case. This really has the smell of a personal vendetta. He may be right, but his approach does his credibility no good.

    http://www.nriinternet.com/NRI_Sciectists/USA/A_Z/G/Subrata%20Ghoshroy/index.htm [nriinternet.com]
    http://openmediaboston.org/node/1084 [openmediaboston.org]

  • by plover (150551) * on Thursday December 29, 2011 @10:13PM (#38534550) Homepage Journal

    develop something before you try to denounce poor spending in a field that to be competitive, at the cost of military failure and the detriment of an entire nation, must pursue even the most unlikely routes).

    It depends on what you're trying to do. If you're responsible and want to conserve money, you let private inventors come up with new ideas, and let them risk their money building working prototypes. Only then do you think about investing in the ones that show some promise.

    However, if you're a congressman, and your mission is to enrich the owners of the corporations in district #3A that donated to your campaign, then it's different. You rank the list of donor corporations in order of the amount they donated, and find out what they specialize in making. Say your top two donors make cotton string and brass eyelets. Then you write up a bunch of requirements for some invention that needs a net made of cotton string strung between brass eyelets, and make it sound really necessary. Invoking the safety of troops is always in vogue, so you might write up a request for a "biodegradable shell catcher to eliminate the possibility of reusing spent bullet casings as shrapnel in Improvised Explosive Devices." Never mind that the insurgents have never bothered using spent bullet casings for anything, but now you're selling cotton string and brass eyelets by the millions. The soldiers take one look at these things that show up one day and say "what the fuck are these useless things for?" Some kid figures out how to make beer holders attached to his bunk, and that's about all the action they see. So your contributors are richer, the taxpayers are poorer, and the troops have pallets of crap they don't care about shipped to bases where they don't want to be.

    But by all means, let's pursue this unlikely route to ensure that brass casings are never used in IEDs again, and we can all breathe easier knowing our troops are safer. 9/11 !!! Never forget!!! O say can you see!

    Or did I poorly judge these expenditures of time and money?

  • by drnb (2434720) on Thursday December 29, 2011 @10:22PM (#38534628)

    Just look at Lockheed Martin's F-22 and F-35 programs for sterling examples of why the U.S. is going broke buying weapons we really don't need, that don't work right, cost vastly more than Lockheed said they would when they won the contracts, and are years to decades late being delivered.

    For those too young to remember. Those were *exactly* the same complaints made about the F-15 back in the day. You know the F-15, the fighter that has a 150 to zero win/loss aerial combat record.

  • Re:R&D (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Ihmhi (1206036) <i_have_mental_health_issues@yahoo.com> on Thursday December 29, 2011 @10:28PM (#38534698)

    In latin, "et" means "plus" or "and". You'll occasionally see "et" pop up in things like legal documents or academic papers.

    The ampersand (&) is basically the current evolution of writing "et" in cursive. There are some interesting [wikimedia.org] pictures [blogspot.com] on the subject.

  • by Brett Buck (811747) on Thursday December 29, 2011 @10:54PM (#38534924)

    It depends on what you're trying to do. If you're responsible and want to conserve money, you let private inventors come up with new ideas, and let them risk their money building working prototypes. Only then do you think about investing in the ones that show some promise.

          That's a great plan. I will wait for a private contractor to come up with, say, an Earth Sensor for my satellite that is hardened against nuclear and laser attack. Then, and only then, will I decide whether to buy it or not. My military communications satellite can just sit on the ground until then, it's not like I actually need the capability.

          Brett

  • by 1369IC (935113) on Friday December 30, 2011 @12:28AM (#38535388)

    Full disclosure: I do public affairs for the Army Research, Development and Engineering Command.

    I can't speak for the other services, but the Army created RDECOM about 8 years ago to make RD&E work better for Soldiers. One big task is having what they call a balanced portfolio that spans basic research through engineering work. The command has more than 16,000 people, more than 10,000 of them civilian engineers or scientists. A lot of smart people put a lot of thought into this. It is not transparent, even to me, for a lot of reasons. Some of it is secret, but some of it is just so particular to the military, or even one part of the Army. For example, under-body explosions. There's a lot of research into head-on collisions, etc., but who else would need to study how to protect people from an under-body explosion? And how transparent is that, and should that be, to people outside the military? And who else is going to work on a material that might be suitable for that kind of thing? And how, pre-Iraq/Afghanistan, do you see that coming as the next big threat or design a research program that can respond to something like that which no one sees coming?

    Which is not to say none of our research transfers into the civilian economy, for example flexible display technology, robotics and nanotechnology. We're working on moving our basic overview onto the web, but it shows we have more than 1,000 partnerships of one kind or another with everything from universities and foreign defense agencies to individual researchers and at least one time two guys in a garage.

    As it happens, the Army just finished another study on how RD&E should work. The results should be out soon and may mean some level of reorganization. Stay tuned if you're interested.

  • The color of money (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday December 30, 2011 @12:35AM (#38535422)

    If you can't explain 6.1, 6.2,6.3, and 6.4 money, then you have no right to make a comment about military R&D
    6.1 money is basic research. GUT, life the universe and everything. This pretty much doesn't exist anymore. The stuff we're building now is based on 6.1 research from the 70's to the 80's
    6.2 money is to take basic research results and explore it further. Since 6.1 money is gone, 6.2 money isn't relevant.
    6.3 money is to take stuff that turned up in 6.2 research and develop an exploitable application with it. Because there's stuff that was developed with 6.1 and 6.2 money 20 years ago, there is still some 6.3 money being spent.
    6.4 money is to take results from a 6.3 exploration and build a prototype with some testing. This is still going on.

    So if the author is saying we're spending on 'useless stuff', well that's true. Trust me, there's a lot of 'useless stuff' that you have to go through to find the 'useful stuff'. I've been in DoD R&D for 30 years. Don't blame the government for that, it's just the way R&D is.

    The problem is, DoD stopped R&D 6.1 spending 20 years ago. They figured the contractors would do it. Instead, the contractors didn't see any purpose in R&D because it didn't pay off within two-5 years. Ten year payoff was out of the question. All that's left is 6.3 and 6.4 tasks. No one in the US is spending large money on 6.1 and 6.2 tasks. We're cannibalizing our future.

  • Re:R&D (Score:5, Interesting)

    by datavirtue (1104259) on Friday December 30, 2011 @12:58AM (#38535566)

    Military R&D is often utilized to retain top talent and preserve experience and knowledge as it relates to the technology. People get worked up over "wasteful" projects that cost billions and supposedly never yield any direct benefit. You have to have jobs here in this country for researchers and technical specialists or you will lose the talent. One day when you need that talent it will not be available. Furthermore, if you do not constantly have a project going, for instance an aircraft carrier, you will lose the ability to build them since no one with the knowledge to do so will be available. It is like a legacy enterprise app in which no one has opened the code for ten years and then all the sudden you need to maintain it for some reason. Someone then has to RELEARN the whole thing to be able to work on it. The same goes for military hardware, you simply cannot let knowledge of these types of projects and systems go stale. The public doesn't understand these requirements so there are interesting stories about "wasteful " projects in the media that are publicly debated. The truth is, these projects are never going to cease and the "waste" will continue because the people in charge of our military readiness understand this aspect. It isn't waste, it is Research and Development; it is necessary though benefits are rarely ever immediately tangible and those in power who do not realize this are dangerous (cough...HP CEOs...cough).

  • by 1369IC (935113) on Friday December 30, 2011 @01:05AM (#38535604)

    As I've noted elsewhere, it's complicated, much more complicated than you're representing it here. Nobody else researches specific areas that the military has to. Elsewhere I used the under-body explosion example, but there are many others. Let's say, RPGs. They hit a vehicle in a very specific way. Who is going to research materials and construction methods to best defend occupants against RPG strikes? Who is going to have a person on staff with a doctorate who is a, if not the, world expert on uniforms and how they interact with the human body, equipment, vehicles, etc.? Only the Army (with benefit to the other services, of course).

    I'm not saying earmarks don't happen. It's not my area (I do public affairs for the Army RD&E command, not budget), so I couldn't say without doing some research that I'm not going to do on a Thursday night while on vacation. However, we have several systems set up to respond to requests from the field, requests from doctrine writers (who write how the Army should work, hence what capabilities it will need), and others. We even take troop designs and get them manufactured. We now have a shop in Afghanistan where soldiers can pull up and get things made for a specific purpose. And we have guys researching things that might be needed 10 or 20 years from now.

  • by um... Lucas (13147) on Friday December 30, 2011 @01:27AM (#38535734) Homepage Journal

    Because the private sector is completely unwilling to dump research dollars into anything. They just sit on their hands waiting for government innovations to occur so they can step in and monetize. Witness where all the cutting edge cancer research is occurring: not at big pharma, but in public universities. And government research, masquerading as military spending, is what brought us the Internet, satellite communications (gps, direct tv, sat radio, say phones, sat imaging, and weather forecasting), cell phones, solar panels and so much more. Pretty much every tech item you have had its roots in military spending. Because private industry is both unwilling and incapable of devoting that much money to research. And in order to find advancements, you have to go through a lot of bad ideas first.

    If you're wasting your time complaing, you're just unaware of reality.

  • by rahvin112 (446269) on Friday December 30, 2011 @05:00AM (#38536518)

    The F-35 was and still is poised to be the best investment in fighter aircraft the US has ever made. It will simplify supply chains, parts management and the best part of all is that we are selling a boat load of them to every Tier1 ally we have thus spreading the immense R&D costs (which are already spent) out over thousands of planes.

    The problem with the F-35 isn't Lockheed, the plane or cost, it's Congress. That's the story that everyone's missing. It's crap like Congress forcing the military to design and test a second engine (that DOD didn't want and repeatedly asked Congress to kill) for the F-35 because a well connected defense contractor didn't win the original engine contract. After spending 3 BILLION dollars they finally got Congress to kill it after it was revealed another 30 billion dollars would be needed to finish the design (which finally got the other congress critters to kill it over the objections of the ones pushing it). The worst part is that the second engine didn't just waste money, it delayed the whole project and increased costs because of the inflation and additional delays to the production line.

    Yes there have been technical challenges that have increased costs, such as the Class C VTOL variant that was extremely difficult to design. But the cost escalations on the F-35 tie almost completely to Congress, such as scaling back the total number purchased (which spreads R&D over fewer planes increasing unit cost), the second engine and a dozen other areas where Congress has deliberately fucked with the procurement process. The F-35 will likely be the last major fighter aircraft the US ever designs and builds. That it will replace more than a dozen different and aging aircraft with a single airframe and parts chain and in addition will be shared among every branch was the smartest decision DOD ever made. Not only that but it puts the US and it's allies ahead of the international competition by a significant margin and the only nation with the funding and R&D to ever compete is China (and I consider that very debatable).

    People forget that the F-15, F-16, F-18, F-117, B1-B and all the aircraft in the US arsenal were designed or produced more than 30 years ago (the first flights of the F-117 Stealth were in the 70's). Even with modern avionics the craft are showing their age, most have no stealth capability at all, little to no mach capability and massive fuel usage. The F-35 closes the gap, equalizes all the aircraft in the arsenal with equivalent capability, unifies the supply chain (greatly simplifying things were a major conflict ever to break out), provides stealth capabilities to the entire fleet, improved fuel usage, mach speed cruise, stand-off firepower and most importantly of all provides a modern airframe to every branch of the military and puts almost every Tier 1 ally into the same airframe.

    Although the F-22 might not be needed, the unification of the air power of the US into a single (I'd like to see the A-10 retained as it's a very sturdy close combat airframe that's very effective against Armor) more powerful airframe used across all branches should NOT be squandered and it would be a terrible mistake to kill it. The defense department spends far to much money we don't have, the budget should be cut but those cuts should come from personal, not R&D and purchase of the new weapons system underway. The F-35 and New DDX Naval Ships are critical components of defense of the mainland US. Lets cut the ground troops and streamline the US fighting force, not squander the defense of the US itself. Consider that salary for active and reserve military members accounts for the vast majority of the DOD expenses. Clinton and the Republican Congress balanced the budget by cutting active military personal about 10%, something Bush Jr and his neoCon Congress immediately reversed.

  • by Colin Smith (2679) on Friday December 30, 2011 @07:02AM (#38536896)

    The means are down to your conscience.

    The American government spends so much money that even if every single income tax payer was paying 100% of their income in tax, there would still be a deficit. Most of that deficit is military spending.

    Yet all it takes to kill a $4 million M1A1 is a $50 IED. To disable a $4 billion aircraft carrier, a $1 million missile.

    Perhaps in a conventional confrontation the US military would win but nobody (apart from saddam) would be stupid enough to fight that fight. You don't fight your opponent's strengths, you fight their weaknesses. That is the last war you're gearing up for, not the next one.

    And in the meantime, the debt climbs exponentially... Have you ever thought you might already be losing the next war? As I said, the end, defeating your opponent is what matters.

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