President Joe Biden’s fiscal 2023 budget proposal, released Monday, would increase the Department of Defense’s research and development funding to an all-time high, as the U.S. military races with China to develop next-generation capabilities.
The White House is asking for $773 billion for the Pentagon in the next fiscal year, $130.1 billion of which would go toward research, development, test and evaluation accounts — the highest-ever level of RDT&E spending in DOD history, according to the Pentagon. That would be a 9.5% boost in RDT&E spending over the amount enacted for 2022.
“This budget reflects our strategy of directing resources to critical investments that allow us to maintain a combat credible force … [and] marshal America’s next generation of technology,” Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin said in a statement.
The RDT&E request includes: $17.6 billion for space-based systems; $5.2 for shipbuilding and maritime systems; $10.4 billion for missiles and munitions; $9 billion for missile defense programs; $2.9 billion for ground systems; $5.3 billion for command, control, communications, computers and intelligence (C4I) capabilities; $16.8 billion for aircraft and related systems; $46.4 billion for mission support; and $16.5 billion for science and technology.
The Navy budget would receive $21 billion for research and development, a 9.2% increase over the amount enacted for 2022, while the Marine Corps would receive about $3 billion, a 5.5% boost.
The fiscal plan “supports continued investment in high-value nuclear asset Columbia, and develops new long-range strike, undersea, hypersonic and autonomous capabilities,” Navy budget documents said.
That includes $1.4 billion for hypersonic weapons, $1 billion for cybersecurity, $651 million for satellite communications, $610 million for command and control systems, and $546 million for electronic warfare systems.
That also includes more than $900 million for unmanned systems such as the MQ-4, MQ-25, MQ-9 extended range, large unmanned surface vessel and extra-large unmanned undersea vehicle.
It also includes $195 million for Project Overmatch — the Navy’s contribution to Joint All Domain Command and Control (JADC2) — $5.3 billion for classified programs, and additional funding for other capabilities.
The Air Force RDT&E budget would reach $33.4 billion, about $4.6 billion more than was requested for 2022.
It “invests in key modernization efforts … across many of the core missions such as air superiority, global strike, command and control, and rapid global mobility,” according to Air Force budget documents.
It includes about $3.3 billion for the B-21 stealth bomber, $1.7 billion for Next-Generation Air Dominance systems, $577 million for hypersonics prototyping, and $231 million for the Advanced Battle Management System – the service’s contribution to JADC2, as well as funding for other capabilities.
The Space Force RDT&E budget would jump to $15.8 billion, up from the $11.3 billion requested for 2022, “to protect and defend current space assets, build more resilient and defendable architectures, and develop offensive capabilities to challenge adversary space capabilities,” according to budget documents.
Funding for major programs includes about $3.5 billion for next-gen OPIR, $1 billion for resilient missile warning and missile tracking, and $566 million for evolved strategic satellite communications, as well as investments in other capabilities.
The Army’s total request for RDT&E is $13.7 billion, about $800 million less than the amount enacted for 2022. However, the non-S&T portion of the research-and-development budget would increase from $10.2 billion to about $11 billion – a 7.5% increase above the amount enacted for 2022.
That would help fund the service’s top modernization priorities, which include long-range fires, next-generation combat vehicles, future vertical lift, the network, air-and-missile defense, and soldier lethality.
“The Army is committed to a sustainable strategic path that develops and fields cutting-edge modernization programs for joint multi-domain operations,” according to Army budget documents.
It would fund prototyping of the long-range hypersonic missile, mid-range capability missile and Precision Strike Missile.
The R&D request also includes $2.7 billion for science and technology projects.
The plan “aligns 82% of S&T funding to the Army’s six modernization priorities to deliver concepts and capabilities at the speed of innovation,” according to budget documents.
A total of $34.4 billion would go toward the U.S. nuclear enterprise and nuclear modernization, which includes a new Ground-Based Strategic Deterrent, Columbia-class ballistic missile submarine, B-21 bomber, Long-Range Standoff cruise missile, and nuclear command, control and communications.
Other significant investments will be made toward “more mature artificial intelligence” and 5G communications initiatives, noted Deputy Secretary of Defense Kathleen Hicks.
The RDT&E request, combined with the $146 billion requested for procurement, will “deliver the combat credibility today and … into the future that we need across air, sea land, cyber and space,” she said during a briefing with reporters at the Pentagon.
Navy Adm. Christopher Grady, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said the funding “will modernize and it will transform the force needed to win [a conflict] in the 2030s and beyond.”
The request was shaped by U.S. government views of China as the “pacing challenge,” Grady said, adding that Russia poses an “acute threat.”
Travis Sharp, director of the defense budget studies program at the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments think tank, noted that the proposed growth in the RDT&E budget is significantly smaller than 9.5% once inflation is factored in.
“Because of the effects of inflation, every year’s defense budget has a good chance of being the largest R&D budget in history because of … the change in the purchasing power of dollars. So, you know, you always want to check out the effects of inflation and then see after you take away inflationary growth, what’s really left in terms of real growth,” he told FedScoop.
Michael McCord, Pentagon comptroller and chief financial officer, said under the Biden administration’s proposal the total DOD budget would only see 1.5 percent real growth over what was enacted for 2022. He did not provide figures for the real growth in the proposed RDT&E budget during a briefing with reporters.
Looking ahead, Sharp noted that long-term projections released Monday by the White House Office of Management and Budget has military RDT&E spending decreasing in nominal terms beginning in 2025.
“That’s noteworthy to me because over the last decade there’s been this steady trend of R&D spending receiving a steadily increasing share of the Pentagon’s budgetary pie. So these out-year projections make me wonder, is DoD intending to end that decade-long trend in which it prior prioritizes R&D spending?” he said.
It could be that the Pentagon is preparing to make “some tough decisions about which research programs it really wants to push forward and which ones it’s going to cull from the program in order to free up the necessary resources to fund the winners” that will successfully transition capabilities into production and fielding, he added.
Mackenzie Eaglen, a defense budget expert at the American Enterprise Institute think tank, said Pentagon budgets have been out of balance in recent years, with too high a portion going toward research and development.
“The ratio of procurement to R&D is at historically unhealthy levels for the Defense Department. And they’ve also been that way for the last decade,” she said. “That means the Pentagon continues to take risk in the near term and in [force] capacity for the future.”