AI, space, integrated sensing and cyber dominate Pentagon’s S&T funding plans | DefenseScoop

The Department of Defense is requesting $17.2 billion for science and technology projects in fiscal 2025, and most of it would be dedicated to three capability areas — AI and autonomy, space, and integrated sensing and cyber — according to a presentation by the Pentagon’s CTO.

Heidi Shyu, undersecretary of defense for research and engineering, has identified 14 “critical technology areas” that she is prioritizing, including trusted AI and autonomy, space, integrated sensing and cyber, integrated network systems of systems, renewable energy generation and storage, and microelectronics. They also include human-machine interface, advanced materials, directed energy, advanced computing and software, hypersonics, biotech, quantum, and 5G/FutureG.

Although S&T funding for budget activities 6.1 basic research, 6.2 applied research and 6.3 advanced technology development only account for about 2% of the Pentagon’s overall budget, it’s considered critical for military modernization because it lays the seed corn for next-generation capabilities.

Of the $17.2 billion that the Pentagon has requested for these budget activities in fiscal 2025, 98% would be divided among those 14 critical tech areas, according to Shyu’s slide presentation during a webinar hosted by NDIA’s Emerging Technologies Institute on Tuesday.

“If you see where the bulk of our funding is going … the biggest bar chart is trusted AI and autonomy. So that’s not going to be surprising. The second area that we found a lot of money in is in the space technology arena. The third piece is the integrators sensing and cyber … Those three categories of areas we’re funding composed about 65% of our S&T budget,” Shyu noted.

The proposal includes about $4.9 billion for trusted AI and autonomy, $4.3 billion for space, and $1.9 billion for integrated sensing and cyber.

Additionally, it includes $1.6 billion for integrated network system of system, $1.5 billion for renewable energy generation and storage, $515 million for microelectronics, $458 million for human-machine interface, $414 for advanced materials, $355 million for directed energy, $333 million for advanced computing and software, $242 million for hypersonics, $224 million for biotech, $76 million for quantum, and $38 million for 5G/FutureG.

The majority of that — approximately $9 billion — is for advanced tech development, with $5.8 billion and $2.5 billion slated for applied research and basic research, respectively.

Among DOD components, about $8.3 billion would go toward “Defense-wide” agencies not aligned with the services — also known as the Fourth Estate — such as the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, Defense Innovation Unit, Strategic Capabilities Office, Missile Defense Agency, and other agencies and field activities under the Office of the Secretary of Defense, according to Shyu’s slides.

Among the services, the Army would receive about $2.8 billion, the Air Force $2.7 billion, the Navy $2.5 billion and the Space Force $840 million.

The total S&T funding request for fiscal 2025 is 3.4% lower than the 2024 request, per Shyu’s slides.

Shyu noted the importance of technology transition from the S&T enterprise as the U.S. aims to field new capabilities at scale.

A total of 105 projects in critical technology areas were transitioned in fiscal 2023, with trusted AI and autonomy topping the list at 30, according to the Pentagon CTO.

“The most typical way that people think about is transitioning into a program of record. Right. So that’s the one pathway. However, it could be a piece of software that we’re delivering capability to upgrade a capability that’s already been fielded. So that’s a different way of fielding a new capability. The other way could very well be, we have developed a technology, the technology is being utilized by a DOD prime or commercial company, [and] we then end up procuring that technology. And the fourth way is we’ve transitioned technology for the DOD [and] it could be used by another government agency,” she explained.

She highlighted the Rapid Defense Experimentation Reserve (RDER) and the Accelerate the Procurement and Fielding of Innovative Technologies (APFIT) programs as examples of initiatives aimed at helping transition promising warfighting capabilities into production.

Several RDER-related technologies are on track to move into production, according to Shyu.

“We have developed some capabilities as part of … the RDER activities. Once we develop it and its mature and the services say, ‘We really would like to have it,’ there are ways that we can just put it right onto the [General Services Administration] schedule and literally a service that wants to procure it just can buy it outright. So it doesn’t have to go through a long procurement process into a program of record,” she explained.

In April, the Pentagon announced the latest tranche of APFIT projects to receive funding, geared toward small and nontraditional contractors. To date, the department has funded 38 companies via the initiative, Shyu said Tuesday.

“We’re helping to fund small companies to get into low-rate initial production. This is helping them to bridge the valley of death that they typically face from [budget activity] 6.3 to get into 6.4 and into-low rate industrial production,” she said, noting that technologies from the first tranche are being fielded by the services and the combatant commands.