President's Budget Emphasizes Emerging Technologies
On February 10th, President Trump released his budget request for FY 2021. Of the portions relevant to the defense industry, many of which are further discussed here, one area deserving of particular attention is the whole-of-government support for emerging technologies.
The President’s budget emphasizes the importance of emerging technologies for U.S. national security. The first page of the President’s budget message cites the need to prioritize AI, 5G, and “industries of the future” amidst a rise in great power competition. In the section on countering emerging threats, the budget document highlights the role of industries working towards the advancement of modern technologies, noting that, “It is not just U.S. troops and Government agents on the front lines anymore. It is U.S. businesses, universities, and social groups.”
The proposed budget translates this sentiment into funding increases for defense R&D programs. DOD’s section of the budget allocates $14 billion dollars in support of science and technology programs related to AI, quantum information science, space technologies, directed energy weapons, and cybersecurity. $3.2 billion dollars, an additional $400 million over 2020 budget levels, would be applied to developing offensive hypersonic capabilities across all service branches. The budget also supports the secure sourcing of microelectronics while committing to not investing government-owned or operated facilities. Regarding space technologies, a DOD press briefing on the president’s budget request identified critical investment areas including space situational awareness systems, missile warning capabilities, and GPS improvements. The same briefing also expanded on investment into autonomous systems, noting that the Navy is engaging in research and development for medium to large unmanned surface vessels.
Research and integration of emerging technologies is a recurring theme in the budget outside DOD as well. In the Department of Agriculture, $100 million from the Agriculture and Food Research Initiative budget would be, “targeted towards basic and applied research in AI”. The National Institute of Standards for Technology (NIST) at the Department of Commerce would have a budget of $718 million to put towards ensuring US leadership in AI, next generation communication technologies, and advanced manufacturing. This would double NIST’s AI funding compared to the 2020 enacted budget. The Department of Education would support the creation of an advanced technical workforce through $90 million in grants for high quality career technical education programs focused on STEM fields. The Department of Energy would receive $5.8 billion to advance early-stage science research, with a combined $882 million dedicated to supercomputing, AI, quantum information science, and the foundational chemical research required for microelectronics. NASA is slated to receive additional funding for investments in dual use technologies including hypersonic flight and hybrid-electric jet engine systems. NASA would also work in support of autonomous vehicles by conducting, “research on the safe integration of remotely-piloted aircraft into U.S. airspace”.
It remains to be seen if the FY 2021 budget will maintain the proposals and funding levels outlined in the president’s budget request, but investment in emerging technologies is a clear priority for this administration.