Wednesday, February 26, 2020

Space Force's First Federal Budget Process

Over the past year the US Air Force has continued to make changes to adjust training and capabilities to the realities of the 21st century. Much of this focus has been in research and development of new technologies that help improve readiness, lethality, and effective decision making among many others. In April of last year, the Air Force submit a new science and technology strategy that highlighted the reforms and developments that would be necessary to maintain technological superiority and military advantages.

One aspect of the shift in strategy is the increasing role of artificial intelligence. AI helps in many aspects of military operations from training soldiers with enhanced work out machines, to autonomous weapons. The Air Force recognizes data in its Annex to the DoD Artificial Intelligence Strategy as "a strategic asset," and has made it their objective to account for this in their policy and standards.

This year we also witnessed the creation of Space Force, the official 6th branch of the military. Fiscal year 2021 is the first federal budget that includes Space Force.  In the first step of the budget process the DoD submit a budget proposal to the President for review asking for 15.4 billion dollars 10.3 of which are for research and development.

While having its own research and development funds are necessary for classified and sensitive technology development, some of this funding would be useful to other researchers outside of the military. Basic research is needed for the development of all technology, including military, and is known for receiving very low amounts of funding. While the Space Force is still in its "early" or "formative" years and threats are minimal, appropriating funds to research that benefits a wider range of initiatives (including the private sector) is possible and should be seriously considered.

Basic research is rarely undertaken by the private sector because it is unlikely that it will lead directly to the commercialization of a product. It should therefore be treated as a public good, something that benefits everyone. The military can benefit from research done by civilians but not necessarily vice versa. While it still can "afford to" because of minimum threat levels, the Space Force should collaborate with civilians and the private sector in its research efforts whenever it can.

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