(WarOnTheRocks) Chad Peltier; a senior defense analyst at Jane’s, where he specializes in emerging defense technologies, Chinese military modernization, and data science: has written a scathing analysis about what he labels the US Department of Defense’ underwhelming support for research and development relative to the Department of Defense’s strategic goals”. Peltier believes the Department of Defense’s two most recent budget requests have been insufficient to implement the administration’s stated modernization strategy fully.
This is not a call to increase the Department of Defense’s budget over its already-gargantuan $705.4 billion FY2021 request. Nor is this the only problem with the federal budget proposal, which included cuts to social safety net programs — programs that are needed now more than ever to mitigate the effects from COVID-19. Instead, my goal is to demonstrate how the budget fails to fund its intended strategy despite its overall excess.
Peltier outlines funding changes for emerging technologies between the FY2020 and FY2021 budgets based on a machine learning text-classification model, while noting cornerstone programs in each category. This summary will include only Peletier’s discussion on quantum technology, but the entire article is worth reading and heeding.
Quantum technologies funding increased by $109 million, to $367 million, in 2021. In general, quantum-related programs are more exploratory, focused on basic and applied research rather than fielding prototypes. The increase in Department of Defense funding for quantum technologies is laudable, but given the potential disruptive ability of quantum technologies, the United States should further increase its federal funding for quantum research and development, guarantee stable long-term funding, and incentivize young researchers to enter the field. The FY2021 budget’s funding increase is clearly a positive step, but quantum technologies’ revolutionary potential demands more funding than the category currently receives.
The allocation of funding for emerging technologies does not reflect an increased focus on long-term planning for high-end competition compared with the 2020 budget. Specifically, the United States should increase its funding for emerging technologies other than hypersonics — directed energy, biotech, and quantum information sciences, as well as in basic scientific research — even if it requires tradeoffs in other areas.