The Air Force plans to significantly ramp up research-and-development funding for three emerging technology programs in fiscal year 2020, and while the current continuing resolution has not impacted these programs to date, its potential prolongation into the new calendar year will likely lead to delays to these efforts.
Service officials recently identified its first three “Vanguard” programs related to technologies the Air Force believes will be “game-changers” in the years to come. Air Force Materiel Command Commander Gen. Arnold Bunch told reporters earlier this month that fiscal years 2019 and 2020 funds had been allocated for those initial efforts, dubbed Golden Horde, Skyborg and Navigation Technology Satellite-3 (NTS-3) (Defense Daily, Nov. 21).
The current budget situation on Capitol Hill — where lawmakers have passed two stopgap spending bills so far to keep the government running first through Nov. 21, and now through Dec. 20 — has not yet impacted the vanguard programs, said Derek Kaufman, media lead for Air Force Materiel Command (AFMC) public affairs in an email to Defense Daily. AFMC’s Air Force Research Laboratory is leading the Vanguard effort as part of the service’s recently released Science and Technology 2030 Study.
“In general operating under a CRA [continuing resolution authority] causes many inefficiencies from slowing down contract awards, expenditure of extra time and effort to re-plan our programs based upon availability of funding, and creates uncertainty in our industry partners who don’t know when they will receive funding,” Kaufman said. “Should the CRA continue into the new year, we expect that there will be delays due to lack of full funding.”
The Air Force expects to spend about $2.8 billion in S&T funding on its Vanguard programs. Data provided to Defense Daily by AFMC shows that the service expected to nearly double investment in these three initial programs this year, from $91 million in FY ’19 to $174 million in FY ’20.
The service set aside about $54 million in FY ’20 science-and-technology and experimentation funds for Skyborg, an effort that is testing the potential value of an artificial-intelligence-driven, attritable “wingman” aircraft. AFRL has performed several test flights related to Skyborg with the Kratos [KTOS]-built XQ-58A Valkyrie unmanned aircraft.
Meanwhile, the Air Force expects to ramp up funding for the Golden Horde program to explore ways to network precision-guided munitions together from $38 million in FY ’19 S&T funding to $67 million, or about a 76 percent increase year over year.
The service also plans to increase S&T funding for the NTS-3 program from $8 million in FY ’19 to $27.7 million in FY ’20, while acquisition funds will decrease from $45 million to $25.5 million. Harris Corp. won the $84 million contract for NTS-3 — which will demonstrate new position, navigation and timing (PNT) technologies that can supplement current GPS constellations — in April, before its merger with L3 Technologies to become L3Harris Technologies [LHX] in June.