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Defense in the FY 2018 Omnibus: Increases for Research, DARPA

More than a billion-dollar increase above the Pentagon's budget request means extra funding for research priorities across the military. 

See Also: Defense in the AAAS R&D Dashboard | Complete Data Tables

When Congress adopted the recent deal to ratchet up the spending caps, it paved the way for additional funding for civilian agencies like NASA and the Department of Agriculture. But Department of Defense science and technology programs (DOD S&T, referring to basic and applied research and early-stage technology) faced a somewhat unique challenge: appropriators last summer had already written defense spending bills that flew way past the preexisting spending caps. So while the cap deal gave Congress substantial new funding to add atop civilian agencies, the defense budget was already cramped, and with mixed outcomes for DOD S&T to that point. The question thus remained whether these programs would be stuck with limited funding changes in an otherwise generous year for R&D, or whether negotiators could scratch out extra dollars in the final omnibus.

The latter turned out to be true: the final omnibus added a few billion more to the base DOD budget, with several hundred million of that directed to DOD S&T. For researchers, things ended up looking better than they might have.

Bottom Line: While not every program was increased, there was certainly more "up" than "down" in the omnibus. In the aggregate, S&T reached $14.8 billion, an increase of 6.2 percent or $865 million above FY 2017 and a full 12.2 percent or $1.6 billion above the Pentagon's request. This included modest increases for basic research, and larger for applied research and advanced technology.

What's Increasing: Several items. Here are some:
  • Navy basic research was increased by 10.5 percent. The Navy had requested increases for ocean and atmospheric science, materials research, math and computing, medical science, and other disciplines, and received them.
  • Military-university research and infrastucture partnerships were increased across all three military branches. Aggregate funding rose to $384 million, a 12.7 percent increase above FY 2017, and included additional funding for the Defense University Research Instrumentation Program.
  • DARPA's 6.3 percent increase included boosts for basic science, electronics, space, biotech, and other fields.
  • Army applied research also received a sizable increase, with funding added for materials science, small satellites, advanced munitions, and many other topics.
  • National Defense Education Program funding surpassed $100 million, 30.2 percent above FY 2017 and far more than requested, with the extra funding added for manufacturing-specific initiatives. Other DOD manufacturing innovation programs received assorted plus-ups as well.
  • Legislators added $1.4 billion for medical research through the Defense Health Program.
  • Legislators also added $25.5 million for the MD5 National Security Technology Accelerator, a military-university-venture capital innovation program.

What's Decreasing: Air Force basic science was reduced below FY 2017 across all research areas, as the Pentagon had requested. The public-private Defense Innovation Unit-Experimental (DIUx), an Obama-era creation, was trimmed below the request.

In Historical Context: DOD S&T (including medical research) would reach its highest point since FY 2006 in inflation-adjusted dollars.

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Photo Credit: U.S. Navy, Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Michael J. Lieberknecht