Tomorrow’s Army Shouldn’t Have to Rely on Yesterday’s Technology

Genevieve Syverson /

John Albright/Icon SMI/Newscom

John Albright/Icon SMI/Newscom

A recent report illustrates how miles of red tape are hindering the nation’s ability to properly fund and equip the military.

The Army Science Board’s report on the strategic direction of the U.S. Army’s science and technology (S&T) efforts warned that the Army’s 2012 S&T Master Plan “lacks an S&T strategy and investment plan to meet likely future challenges.”

The report highlights the disconnect between research and practical application in the armed forces. During a decade of combat in Iraq and Afghanistan, the armed forces systematically shifted their focus to supporting those operations. This includes technology research efforts and acquisition, which puts the current force in a state less flexible to confront other threats.

For example, the Mine-Resistant, Ambush-Protected vehicle (MRAP) protected troops during transport throughout Iraq and Afghanistan. However, upon completion of those operations, there is no foreseeable use for the MRAP in other theaters, meaning billions of taxpayer dollars were spent on a program with a very short shelf life.

The lack of accountability in the acquisition process can also be seen in the delays in production of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter. Steve Bucci, director of Heritage’s Allison Center for Foreign Policy Studies, described how the original production methodology for the F-35 was designed to put “the best available plane in the hands of the warfighters as soon as possible. It also allows for cuts in cost per copy as efficiencies build upon one another.” Despite the F-35 being crucial to U.S. national security, insufficient planning and inconsistent funding from the government have led to substandard development for this important program.

To mitigate the emergence of “unknown unknowns”—threats the U.S. cannot prepare for by virtue of unavoidable ignorance—the armed services need research and development arms that allow them to “identify and exploit disruptive technologies initiated by U.S. commercial and international efforts through partnerships,” the study recommends. This requires streamlining the management and authority structure and establishing a robust S&T workforce by prioritizing the recruitment and retention of officers and civilian experts.

The panel’s recommendations reflect a common criticism of government processes. Similar to defense cuts under sequestration, decisions are being made without reference to strategy. This is especially problematic when it results in an S&T strategy that in fact has no strategy.

Accountability and incentives for efficiency could help rectify the broken acquisition process and S&T branches to save taxpayers billions. It is time to reconnect R&D and acquisition decisions to overall strategy.

Genevieve Syverson is currently a member of the Young Leaders Program at The Heritage Foundation. For more information on interning at Heritage, please click here.