House Armed Services Committee (HASC) Ranking Member Rep. Mac Thornberry (R-Texas) wants to make sure that the Pentagon’s fiscal year 2021 request for more research-and-development prototyping funds does not come at the expense of reducing basic research programs.

Speaking with reporters on Capitol Hill Feb. 12, Thornberry said it is “good and right” for the Pentagon to request a significant increase in its research, development, test and evaluation (RDT&E) funds in its budget request, released Feb. 10.

Budget documents show that department-wide RDT&E funding would increase by $2 billion should Congress approve the request, from about $104.4 billion allocated in 2020 to $106.5 billion in 2021 (Defense Daily, Feb. 10). The documents also show decreased funding for early R&D stages, including basic and applied research, and increased funding requests for later stage R&D projects including management support, prototypes and operational systems development.

Boosting the latter stages of R&D programs is “terrific,” Thornberry said. “We are seeing amazing progress on getting systems fielded faster by just going out and building something.”

However, that also came at the cost of earlier R&D research,” he noted. “That worries me, because we are in a long-term competition with China, and our basic research is a key part of that.”

“I am concerned about how that works,” he continued. He lauded the investment plans for critical technology areas including hypersonic weapons and vehicles, artificial intelligence, space systems and missile defense.

Deputy Secretary of Defense David Norquist said in a Monday press briefing at the Pentagon that the FY ’20 enacted budget included the largest RDT&E request in 70 years. “This year’s research request is even larger,” he said. “We have been investing in these emerging technologies and many are now being proto-typed and tested. And as they’re ready, we are poised to move them into production.

“In short, this budget invests in bringing the capabilities of tomorrow to life,” Norquist continued.

Thornberry noted that the committee is still “sifting through the details” of the proposed budget, “trying to understand what’s in it, much less what we think about what’s in it.”

A longtime advocate for a 3 to 5 percent budget increase to sustain modernization and capability investment goals, Thornberry said he supported the Pentagon sticking to the $750.4 billion topline cap as mandated by the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2019.

“That should enable us to get authorization and appropriations bills done on time. There’s no reason not to,” he said. Thornberry, who has served in Congress for over 25 years including four as HASC chairman, announced last September that he would retire at the end of 2020 (Defense Daily, Sept. 30, 2019).