The U.S. Army continues to spend money researching and developing new weapons while upgrading existing weapons systems, mostly with an eye towards fighting big wars in the future, not the sort of low-intensity conflicts it has largely been waging in places like Afghanistan and Iraq. Defense budget experts keeping track of Army R&D spending say the service is more focused on technologies that will enable it to defeat a sophisticated great-power force like that belonging to Russia and, increasingly, China, following a decade of counterinsurgency warfare. The Army is now preparing for “the big war,” Robert Levinson, senior defense analyst with Bloomberg Government, said during a recent briefing for industry and media. Analysts see “continued drive in that direction … for the big state-on-state kind of conflict that the Army needs to deter,” Levinson said. The Army’s R&D, test and evaluation budget is also set to increase about 25 percent between fiscal years 2017 and 2022, to $10.24 billion. The service’s priorities: Air- and missile defense; cybersecurity; electronic warfare; high-energy lasers; advanced munitions; active protective systems; and a future vertical left helicopter technology. What’s more, the Army isn’t just looking for small advances in current technologies, it seeks “leap-ahead” developments. “They’re really looking down the road,” Levinson said. “They’re investing their RDT&E to get to those technological breakthroughs that will allow them to create a program of record that’s … going to give them a leap in capability.” He added: “The Army we think is being smart in saying, ‘Let’s not invest in a brand new program that’s not going to give us a whole lot of new capability.'”
Jon E. Dougherty is a political, foreign policy and national security analyst and reporter with nearly 30 years of experience in both fields. A U.S. Army veteran of Operation Enduring Freedom, he holds BA in Political Science from Ashford University and an MA in National Security Studies/Intelligence Analysis from American Military University.