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Department of Defense investments in research and development have paid very high dividends over the last fifty years. In the last decade alone, the United States has used its high-tech capability with great success in three conflicts: the Persian Gulf, the Balkans and Afghanistan. In each instance, US military objectives were accomplished with little loss of American life and relatively few direct civilian casualties. However, current defense research funding trends do not bode well for conflicts in the decades to come.
Today's array of military technologies - laser guided weapons, global positioning systems, stealth materials and night-vision systems, among them - were the result of a long-term DOD commitment to basic and applied research, carried out under the "6.1" and "6.2" programs. These programs, which draw heavily on the talents of the university community, presently total about $5 billion in annual spending, with roughly one third allocated to basic (6.1) research and two thirds to applied (6.2) research.
For several decades, during a time when the American military has increasingly come to rely on its technological superiority, these accounts have remained essentially flat in constant dollars. This funding pattern places such reliance at extreme future risk.
Numbers are only one part of the story. For some time, defense policies have had the effect of reclassifying projects from one R&D category to another: development (6.3) relabeled as applied research (6.2) and applied research relabeled as basic research (6.1). This reclassification has severely compromised the long-term basic research programs that provide the seed corn for future defense technologies. In the interests of future national security this trend must be reversed.
Tomorrow's military capabilities depend heavily on the R&D choices the public makes today. Investments in the 6.1 and 6.2 programs must be increased, and the long-term basic research programs must not be sacrificed for short-term expediency. Future military strength requires it.
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