14 May 14. Despite a year of workforce furloughs and dwindling budgets, the Defense Department’s science and technology enterprise reports advances ranging from a full hypersonic weapon system and high-energy lasers to light-based brain treatments and new core capabilities in cyber warfare, senior DOD officials told a Senate panel.
Alan Shaffer, acting assistant secretary of defense for research and engineering, and Dr. Arati Prabhakar, director of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, or DARPA, testified on defense research and innovation before the Senate Appropriations subcommittee on defense.
Shaffer told the panel the DOD workforce has produced remarkable achievements but now shows signs of stress due to downsizing-furlough-shutdown challenges of the past year.
“These affected the health of our workforce and the programs they execute in ways we are just beginning to understand,” he said. “We have begun to address the challenges but they remain a concern to us.”
The fiscal 2015 science and technology budget request is down about 5 percent, to $11.5 billion compared to fiscal 2014’s $12 billion request, Shaffer added.
“DOD tries to balance our program [but] there are factors that led Defense Secretary [Chuck] Hagel to conclude in his Feb. 24 budget rollout that we are entering an era where American dominance on the seas, in the skies and in space can no longer be taken for granted,” Shaffer said.
DOD is in its third year of a protracted budget drawdown, he added, and Hagel has described three major areas that make up the budget — force size, readiness and modernization.
The current budget drives force reduction but this reduction will take several years to yield savings, Shaffer said. In the fiscal 2015 budget, readiness and or modernization will pay a larger percentage of the overall department bill.
“To address the challenges,” he added, “we needed to examine the strategy we’re using to focus the S&T investment on high-priority areas [and] from that review emerged a strategy for investment.”
DOD invests in science and technology for three reasons, Shaffer said.
– To mitigate new and emerging threat capabilities, “and we see a significant need in the areas of electronic warfare, cyber, counter-weapons of mass destruction, and preserving space capabilities.”
– To affordably enable new or extended capabilities in military systems and future systems, “and there is a significant need to grow department systems’ engineering, modelling, and simulation and prototyping.”
– To develop technology surprise, and “we see significant need in areas such as autonomy, human systems, quantum sensing and big data.”
Shaffer said despite the challenges, the department continues to perform, including in areas such as understanding and treating traumatic brain injury.
“In addition to the DARPA Brain Initiative, the department has developed successful technologies in this area in the medical research program and in our Army’s research program,” he told the panel.
“The combination of DARPA’s small blast gauge to measure the [amount of blast exposure] to the head, coupled with the Defense Health Program’s advances in therapeutics in photonic[, or light,] medicine will allow us to treat traumatic brain injury] more quickly and effectively,” Shaffer said.
From that program, researchers have discovered that intense light outside the skull prevents brain tissue decay after a TBI-inducing event. The treatment is in clinical trials, Shaffer said.
In another program, the Air Force X-51 Waverider hypersonic demonstration was the second successful demo of powered scramjet technology, he added.
A scramjet, according to technical descriptions, is a variant of a ramjet air-breathing engine but one in which combustion takes place in the craft’s supersonic airflow.
This demonstrates “that we are getting close to developing a full hypersonic system,” Shaffer said. “No one else in the world has done this.”