Defense Research: A Primer on the Department of Defense's Research, Development, Test and Evaluation (RDT&E) Program

Over the last 10 years, the country has spent an average of $36 billion a year on DOD's RDT&E program. About 80% of that goes toward the development of specific military systems or system components. Most of the rest, between $7 billion and $8 billion, goes toward more fundamental research, development, and demonstrations of sciences and technologies identified as important to military capabilities and operations (called the Science and Technology program). Total RDT&E funding for the last 10 years has remained relatively level in nominal terms. However, when accounting for inflation, RDT&E funding peaked in FY1987 and declined fairly steadily until FY1997. The decline primarily occurred in those activities associated with developing specific weapon systems. Science and Technology funding during that time, although more volatile from year to year, has kept up with inflation. Maintaining a healthy Science and Technology program is a continuing concern of Congress. The Undersecretary of Defense for Acquisition and Technology has been given the responsibility of overseeing the overall RDT&E budget. Reporting to the Undersecretary is the Director of Defense Research and Engineering (DDR&E), who is responsible for overseeing the Science and Technology program. Actual program management responsibility belongs to the Services and a number of Defense Agencies. Each Service and Defense Agency has its own process for planning its RDT&E and Science and Technology investment. The DDR&E is responsible for publishing a DOD-wide Science and Technology Strategy and Plan. DOD's RDT&E budget supports work at universities, private firms, non-profits, federally financed research and development centers, Service-owned research facilities, and other federally owned research facilities. DOD currently has over 80 Research and Development facilities and 26 Test and Evaluation Centers. Some issues that Congress has been addressing and likely will continue to deal with include: maintaining a healthy Science and Technology (S&T) investment; accelerating the transition of new technology from the laboratory to the field; downsizing DOD's RDT&E infrastructure; and integration with the commercial sector.