Army too focused on the short term in research, says panel

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Basic research within the Army has become too near-term in its focus and as a result has produced fewer discoveries and inventions, says a panel of experts convened by the Rand Corp. at the behest of the military service.

In a report (.pdf) made public April 18 of the panel's findings, the service comes under particular criticism for bounding its Army Research Lab core research with too many "Army technology objectives"--efforts the Army says have well-defined  deliverables made according to clear milestones.

ARL "research has become overly prescribed by the planning and review process," the panel's report says, adding that "technology program agreements" also play a role in the stultifying environment.  

The report acknowledges that soldiers are the ultimate customers of Army research efforts, but says that a nearly universal expectation that a funded project will produce a product in addition to scientific knowledge shortchanges the Army's ability to make discoveries that benefit warfighters.

Science and technology "is often not a simple sequential process whereby an idea is started in basic research, migrates to applied research, and then transitions to technology demonstration," the report states.

Basic research funding for in-house independent research has decline since 1997, dropping below the 5 percent threshold of the basic research budget activity (known as  BA 6.1) that guidance from the office of the secretary of defense says should be maintained. The Naval Research Laboratory, the report says, consistently receives more than twice the resources for in-house basic research than ARL.

Defense Department funding for both basic and applied research is likely to decline, the report says, but the Army should nonetheless maintain in-house independent research funded at more than 5 percent of 6.1 funding, the report says. It should also "establish a culture of discovery in basic research to encourage risk-taking and pursuit of opportunities with high potential."

For more:
- download the report, "Improving Army Basic Research; Report of an Expert Panel on the Future of Army Laboratories" (.pdf)

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