Pentagon Directs Basic Research Funds to Applied Projects, Says Report

A scientific advisory group has found that the Department of Defense is spending a considerable portion of its basic research dollars to fund short-term, applied research projects, weakening the agency's science portfolio. "We believe that important aspects of DoD's basic research programs are 'broken,' " says the study, which was conducted by the independent JASON group last year but released by the Pentagon only last week in response to a Freedom of Information request from the Federation of American Scientists.

Given the military's needs, it's not surprising that DOD allocates the bulk of its $13.5 billion science and technology budget to applied research and technology development. About $1.9 billion—15% of the total—is set aside for basic research, labeled 6.1, which by definition is not supposed to be geared toward short-term goals.

But when the authors of the JASON study examined 258 abstracts of 6.1 projects funded by the Air Force Office of Scientific Research, a DOD funding agency, they found that many of the projects did not meet the definition of basic research used by the Pentagon. For example, one project aimed to characterize "unresolved satellites using optical and radar signatures;" another was for developing computer codes to be used in airborne weapons systems. Likewise, the Army Research Office's list of 6.1 projects included many that in the view of the study authors "are not, even by a generous stretch, 6.1 research."

"A portion of 6.1 funding by the services has been subject to short-term pressures and drifted toward more managed research relevant to direct service needs," the study says. "Such drift has resulted in a net loss of bona fide 6.1 activities, inconsistent with DoD goals and directives."