The Challenges for America’s Defense Innovation

November 21, 2014
Defense innovation is a key driver of U.S. security and economic competitiveness, however our preeminence in this area is under threat.

From WWII to the 1957 launch of the Soviet Sputnik to the 1980s defense buildup, U.S. defense investments in research and development not only promoted American security and safety but made a major contribution to U.S. innovation and economic leadership, assisting in the development of a host of industry-defining technologies from the Internet to GPS to the laser. Yet since the end of Cold War, federal funding for R&D, including defense R&D, has increased much more gradually and recently has actually declined. In addition, the 2013 sequestration – which mandated automatic spending cuts numerous programs including defense research initiatives – has exacerbated the challenge.

This report takes a closer look at America’s defense innovation ecosystem, assessing the current state of U.S. military expenditures compared to historical averages and our international competitors. It then analyzes the impact of the sequestration and limited budgets, the decline of the industrial base for defense needs, and the erosion of domestic innovation generally on the health of the defense research enterprise. The United States defense system is still the most innovative in the world, but that leadership is not assured and is in danger of failing. This decline in leadership will not only impact defense innovation and capabilities, but also overall commercial innovation and U.S. competitiveness.