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The Decline of US Military Innovation

The US military may still be the most advanced in the world, but its continued technological leadership is far from assured. Limitations on R&D budgets, driven by mandatory spending cuts, pose one of the greatest challenges to America's efforts to maintain its edge in innovation.

NEW YORK – The United States is at risk of losing its military edge. America’s armed forces may still be the most advanced in the world; after all, the US spends more than twice as much on military research and development as major powers like France and Russia, and nine times more than China and Germany. But America’s continued technological leadership is far from assured.

Since 2005, the US Department of Defense has cut R&D spending by 22%. In 2013, as part of a deal to avert a showdown over the debt ceiling, the US Congress mandated some $1.2 trillion in automatic spending cuts. The move, which requires reduced spending in numerous programs, including many defense research initiatives, was described by US President Barack Obama’s administration as “deeply destructive to national security.” If US defense innovation continues to erode, not only will America’s defense capabilities suffer; the country will also risk slipping in terms of commercial innovation and competitiveness.

Budget limitations pose some of the greatest challenges to the US military’s efforts to maintain its technological edge. The Army and the Missile Defense Agency have been particularly hard hit, with R&D spending nearly halved since 2005. The Navy’s research budget has been cut by some 20%, and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) – the organization tasked with keeping the US military ahead of the technological curve – has had to slash R&D spending by 18%. Even the Air Force, where research spending has traditionally been a congressional priority, has been forced to cut its budget by roughly 4%.

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