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The FY 2020 Budget Request: Security R&D

A review of requested spending for science and technology programs in the Defense Department, the Department of Homeland Security, and the National Nuclear Security Administration.

See also: FY 2020 Science Appropriations Dashboard | R&D in the President's Budget

Department of Defense Science & Technology

Within the context of a request for elevated defense spending, the Department of Defense would see its overall budget rise by 4.9 percent to $718 billion and its Research, Development, Test & Evaluation (RDT&E) rise by 8.7 percent to $104.3 billion, about two-thirds of which is counted as R&D (see table below). DOD has identified several R&D priorities including hypersonic weapons (with $2.6 billion slated for investment), artificial intelligence and machine learning ($927 million, including a substantial increase for the Joint Artificial Intelligence Center), offensive and defensive cyber operations ($9.6 billion), and autonomous systems ($3.7 billion). DOD also plans to spend $14.1 billion on the space sector; see this summary of space R&D in the request for related science and technology programs.


But this R&D boost would be entirely focused on nearer-term late-stage development spending, as science and technology programs – including basic and applied research and early-stage technology[i] - would be cut by $1.5 billion or 9.7 percent below FY 2019 levels, with funding reductions across all three military branches (see table below). Defense agencies would fare a bit better due to a $129 million or 3.8 percent increase for DARPA.


Military Basic Science. As can be seen in the table below, most basic science program elements (excepting DARPA and some others) would see funding reductions.

Army basic science funding would include increases of $2.5 million for the Multidisciplinary University Research Initiative (MURI) and Defense University Research Instrumentation Program (DURIP), though the latter will also provide funding for Presidential Early Career Awards for Scientists and Engineers (PECASE) awards. The Cyber Security Collaborative Research Alliance, a competitive research consortium, was formerly funded via the University and Industry Research Centers line item, and becomes its own program element in the FY 2020 request.

Navy funding for its own DURIP program would be reduced by $10 million or 31.1 percent in the request, while MURI and PECASE awards are also slated for reductions. Air Force funding for competitive awards for undergrad and graduate research would increase by $1.4 million, amid an overall declining university research budget.


Within DARPA, basic math and computer science would receive a $32.2 million or 17.1 percent increase above FY 2019 levels, with new thrust areas in AI science, human-machine symbiosis, and alternative computational primitives. DARPA would also establish a new thrust area in pharmacological interventions, while funding would ramp up for the DARPA Launch Challenge (see space R&D recap). Applied research programs in information and communications technology, tactical land systems, and materials would also increase.

Other Programs. Funding for the newly-permanent Defense Innovation Unit would more than triple to $139 with a major funding injection for prototyping and commercialization, in addition to another $25 million for university partnerships and other activities under the newly-renamed National Security Innovation Network (formerly the MD5 National Security Technology Accelerator).

On the STEM education front, the budget would likely result in reductions for multiple activities funded through the National Defense Education Program as seen in the table above. Separately, funding for the Vannevar Bush Faculty Fellowship Program would increase by $4.7 million with continued support for 55 fellows, the same as FY 2019, while the number of Laboratory University Collaboration Initiative fellows would decline from 36 to 25.

National Nuclear Security Administration

NNSA would again see fairly broad-based increases for R&D programs in its FY 2020 request. This includes an $85.8 million increase for exascale-relevant development, including partnerships with the Office of Science and the National Cancer Institute, and a $50 million increase for exascale modernization at the Livermore Computing Complex. These account for most of the large jump in the Advanced Simulation and Computing program.

Another large increase (of $95.2 million) is slated for subcritical experimentation capabilities in the Science program, including preliminary design and procurement of a Neutron-Diagnosed Subcritical Experiments (NDSE) system prototype. Meanwhile, Stewardship Science Academic Alliance (SSAA) program support would be reduced by $8.7 million or 26.2 percent to $24.6 million in FY 2020, with university Centers of Excellence de-prioritized.

On the international confinement fusion front, National Ignition Facility funding would be reduced by 14.1 percent below the FY 2019 appropriation to $295.7 million, with a study on facility efficacy forthcoming in FY 2020. Z Facility funding would be increased by 6.1 percent to $66.9 million, while OMEGA facility funding would be held flat at $80 million.


While nonproliferation R&D funding would decrease, this is mainly due to the transfer of U.S. High Performance Research Reactor program activities out of the account. The Proliferation Detection R&D subprogram would see an 8.0 percent increase to $304.0 million, to establish a nonproliferation stewardship initiative and for testbed development.

Department of Homeland Security

Science and Technology Directorate. Within the context of a substantially reduced budget and a realigned organizational structure, the request would discontinue funding for the Apex R&D thrust area and replaces it with a new Innovative Research and Foundational Tools thrust, which is intended to conduct gap analyses and rapidly deliver technological solutions for the other DHS components.

The S&T-funded, university-based Centers of Excellence program, which received funding for ten centers in final FY 2019 appropriations, would be reduced to five.


The directorate continues to manage construction of the National Bio and Agro-Defense Facility, which has already received full funding in past appropriations, and is approaching completion. Responsibility for future operations will transfer fully to the U.S. Department of Agriculture in the current fiscal year, with appropriators’ blessing.

Countering Weapons of Mass Destruction Office. The relatively new office, established in 2018 to prevent and respond to nuclear, chemical, radiological, and biological threats and incidents, would increase funding by $2.1 million for late-stage Detection Capability Development. Lower-priority basic research related to radiological and nuclear detection and forensics would be de-emphasized, with a refocusing on higher-priority applied research more immediately relevant to the technology pipeline. The office intends to collaborate and leverage the capabilities of other federal basic science funders outside DHS.

Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency. The department would ramp up R&D funding to $30.5 million at CISA, another newly-established office as of last fall. The bulk of funding is for cybersecurity R&D on analytics, emergency communications, and network security.

[i] The 6.1, 6.2, and 6.3 accounts in the DOD fiscal parlance.