| NATIONAL HARBOR, Md., Sept 18
NATIONAL HARBOR, Md., Sept 18 The single biggest
driver for research and development in the U.S. arms industry is
not a hot area like unmanned weapons, cyberspace, or
surveillance but the need to make systems affordable, executives
and defense officials say.
Top U.S. defense officials are pressing industry to chip in
more of its own funds for new projects and to make weapons
systems more quickly and at lower cost.
These officials say they will also try to safeguard some
government funding of new leap-ahead technologies as U.S.
military spending declines in coming years.
General Mark Welsh, the top uniformed officer in the Air
Force, told industry executives at the Air Force conference this
week that mounting budget pressures meant they had to "break the
price curve" that has sent the cost of weapons systems
skyrocketing over the past decades.
"We can't afford it. We've got to come up with a different
approach," Welsh said.
Lockheed Martin Corp, Boeing Co and other
arms makers are paying close attention as they scramble for a
piece of the few new acquisition programs on the Pentagon's
horizon at a time when military budgets are facing nearly $1
trillion in cuts over the next decade.
Across the industry, executives are working to introduce new
production techniques such as 3D printing, accelerate software
development, switch to lighter materials that reduce fuel use,
and leverage computer systems to streamline maintenance.
Companies are also funding their own research efforts.
Executives warn, howevere, there is a limit to how much of their
own money they can spend before shareholders demand a return of
A growing chorus of executives is sounding alarms about the
shrinking level of government investment in new weapons
technologies, which has slipped to just a quarter of a percent
of gross domestic product, down from 1 percent in the 1960s.
"These ever thinner R&D budgets are insidious for many
reasons," Wes Bush, chief executive of Northrop Grumman Corp
told the conference on Monday, He warned that cuts in
research funding could undermine the technological superiority
of the U.S. military in the longer run, as well as the health of
the companies that develop and build weapons.
It could also hamper efforts by his company and others to
attract young talent to replace the huge number of technical
professionals -- about half the industry's total workforce --
who are eligible for retirement, Bush warned.
Daryl Davis, president of the Phantom Works advanced
research and prototyping arm of Boeing Co's defense
business, told Reuters that Boeing was committed to investing
its own funds for research and development, at least for now.
"We in industry can only do this for so long. We cannot do
this in perpetuity without a return," Davis said in an interview
at the conference. "I understand the great road map, but when
are the dollars going to follow the road map?"
Davis said Boeing's research work was focused on developing
more affordable weapons systems and adopting quicker
commercial-style development practices for software and
Such thinking, he said, helped Boeing develop a new type of
electric propulsion satellite, which is lighter, cheaper to
launch and already having commercial success. The new satellites
also offers the military more options for launching sensors into
space at lower cost, Davis said.
"You don't create markets unless you have a differentiated
product at a price point that people are willing to pay," he
said. "An awful lot ow hat we're worrying about is