WARNO: This week’s topic is like broccoli—a bit bland—but it's intellectual nutrition that you need…so suck it up.
The Pentagon’s FY23 budget request includes $130.1B for research, development, test, and evaluation (RDT&E). This is 9.5% more than last year and lauded as the largest-ever
RDT&E budget request.
There’s way more going on here than you realize, but first, you have to understand the boring basics.
Defense RDT&E is split into eight buckets of money called Budget Activities. Those eight budget activities can be lumped into five groups.
1. The first group (6.1/6.2/6.3) is S&T (science and technology) and exists as seed corn to build a pool of knowledge for the future. This is the ‘R’ in R&D and what funds organizations like DARPA and the Air Force Research Lab.
2. The second group (6.4/6.5) is the ‘D’ in R&D. The focus of this group is on applying existing scientific and technical knowledge to develop new equipment to meet current emerging operational needs. This money is also used for government prototyping and demonstration (think Air Force SkyBorg), as well as engineering manufacturing and design—a precursor to production.
3. The third group (6.6) covers all RDT&E management and support, including test ranges, labs, and facilities required for specific projects. This is used to support any other budget activity in RDT&E.
4. The fourth group (6.7) focuses on development efforts to upgrade systems that have been fielded or have received approval for full-rate production. This includes the development, test, & evaluation of formal programs but only includes some operational test and zero weapons systems evaluation (yes, it’s confusing).
5. The final group (6.8) is software development tools
and digital transformation. This is a fairly new “colorless appropriation” pilot program that’s not even RDT&E, but it's lumped here likely to avoid having to create yet another appropriation.
Here’s what it all looks like: