- The Washington Times - Saturday, December 25, 2004

President Bush recently committed himself controlling federal spending, which suggests dollars will be cut from a wide spectrum of programs. Although we are clearly still at war, the Pentagon’s current research and development efforts do not ameliorate today’s challenges in Iraq, so slicing some of those funds may be appropriate, and particularly so if the basis for those outlays is misplaced.

The Defense Department budget for R&D; (and testing/evaluation) rose $23 billion over 2001-2004, the almost 60 percent growth rate doubling that for military compensation and almost tripling the procurement figures. The estimated $64.3 billion for 2004 is scheduled to increase another $5 this year, the goal being “to transform the military to a 21st century fighting force.” Yet there may be wiggle room in the defense science and technology category, which exceeds $12 billion annually and is fourfold what other NATO countries spend collectively.

Without question, military R&D; is essential to counter ever-evolving threats. Indeed, as one study noted, “there is an exponential increase of military effectiveness due to advancements in science and technology.”

Military successes in both the Gulf War of 1991 and the more recent Operation Iraqi Freedom clearly demonstrate the enormous value of high-tech fighting capabilities.

Defense R&D; became an integral part of the almost half-century long Cold War, where the Free World faced a formidable adversary desiring global hegemony and the triumph of their system over ours. The Soviets proved their technical prowess by launching Sputnik in 1957, thereby providing a tremendous incentive for boosting U.S. R&D; efforts. Indeed, pushing money into military R&D; to keep up with the Russians became a way of life, an established behavior pattern clearly necessary to counter a determined, high-tech adversary.

Happily, however, the Cold War is over. Yet the deeply ingrained mindset for “pushing the scientific envelope” remains an almost cherished Pentagon imperative. Any questioning of this orientation evokes instantaneous indignation, with questions such as: “Don’t you care about saving American lives? High tech applications mean better defense, better offense, shorter wars.” While perfectly true, such arguments — neither new nor decisive — beg the critical question of “how much is enough?” More money can always be spent on military hospitals, on better defensive systems, or on ways to win more quickly, all of which save lives. But at some point limits must be set. So to argue more military R&D; does good things tells us nothing about the right amount.

Again, during the Cold War era, with a major adversary breathing down our necks, the greater military technology imperative was much more visible and understandable.

But that war is over, yet that mentality — the relentless drive for more and better military R&D; — persists. Today’s terrorist threats, however, are hardly similar to the Soviets’ technology-driven capabilities. And on the battlefield the U.S. is light-years ahead of any potential adversaries.

Importantly, as America strives to develop coalitions and fight combined operations with allies, it is critical that military systems be interoperable, that we can communicate with each other, coordinate military efforts, etc. Yet Adm. Jacques Lanxade, former chief of Staff of the French Armed Forces, recently warned the revolution in military technology has been “the near sole province of the U.S. armed forces. The gap between American and European forces has widened, making cooperation oftentimes difficult.” This ever-increasing gap is a clear red flag.

The U.S. foreign policy establishment cherishes the hope NATO allies will increase their own military R&D; to narrow the technological gap. But European experts of all stripes agree this will not happen. A supporting effort would be a greater sharing of U.S. R&D; advances, but even such efforts require added resource commitments by America as well as its allies.

Ignoring the tough issue of how much classified information should be shared, technology transfer takes time and money. The actual process requires releasing U.S. technical personnel from current work so they can interface with allied nations’ scientific personnel, which would either need be augmented or taken from their present duties.

If NATO allies fall too far behind, there is real danger they may lack sufficient future technical capabilities for absorbing the military advances we might wish or need to share.

Accordingly, America’s racing defense technology efforts are increasingly leaving our allies in the dust, to all of NATO’s detriment. Given budget stringencies, cutbacks in U.S. military science and technology outlays are warranted, allowing the funds to be re-allocated either elsewhere in the Defense Department or to other government agencies.

DONALD LOSMAN

Donald Losman is Professor of Economics at the Industrial College of the Armed Forces, Washington, D.C.

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