Senators propose big boost in funding to upgrade DOD’s test ranges

A hypersonic sled travels 6,400-feet per second on a monorail and is recovered as part of the Hypersonic Sled Recovery effort at the Arnold Engineering Development Complex High Speed Test Track at Holloman Air Force Base, New Mexico. (U.S. Air Force photo)

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New legislation calls for spending more than $1.8 billion in the next fiscal year to improve the Pentagon’s infrastructure for developing and testing new and emerging technologies.

Congress allocated $798 million in fiscal 2022 to the Defense Department’s lab and test range modernization activities focused on space systems, the electromagnetic spectrum, hypersonics, directed energy, and targets. And for fiscal 2023, the Pentagon had requested $1.26 billion for “strategic test infrastructure improvements” as it looks to support testing of hypersonic weapons, electronic warfare, nuclear modernization, trusted AI, and multi-domain operations, according to budget documents.

But members of the Senate Appropriations Committee say that isn’t enough.

“While the Committee is encouraged to see that the fiscal year 2023 President’s budget request continues to make significant investments in test infrastructure, it notes that the requested funding does not adequately meet the needs of the test community. Therefore, the Committee recommends additional appropriations of $1,805,000,000 … for lab and test range upgrades for the following: electromagnetic spectrum, hypersonics, directed energy, space, targets, data management, artificial intelligence/autonomous systems, and the test & evaluation innovation hub,” said the report accompanying the chairman’s mark of the fiscal 2023 defense appropriations bill released last week.

The Defense Department’s major test ranges and facilities are a vast enterprise that includes 23 major sites across the continental United States, Alaska, Hawaii and the Kwajalein Atoll. They employ 30,000 people and cover about 18,000 square miles of land — more than half of the land owned by the DOD — and 180,000 square miles of airspace.

U.S. officials have been banging the drum about the need for improvements as the Pentagon pursues a wide-ranging modernization effort to acquire new capabilities to compete with advanced adversaries such as China.

“If we expect the department to attract the world’s best and brightest to produce state-of-the-art technologies, we must modernize our laboratory and test ranges,” Undersecretary of Defense for Research and Engineering Heidi Shyu told members of the House Armed Services Cyber, Innovative Technologies, and Information Subcommittee during a hearing in May.

Subcommittee Chairman Rep. Jim Langevin, D-R.I., said more funding is needed to address the infrastructure challenges that the DOD is facing.

“It is shocking that we face a massive backlog in laboratory investment, more than $5.7 billion in the latest report to Congress. These challenges affect not just the pace and breadth of innovation, but also our ability to attract and retain the top-tier talent that we depend on. I’m committed to doing everything in my power to address this issue,” he said at the hearing.

Provisions in the Senate Appropriations Committee’s version of the defense spending bill will have to be approved by the full Senate and then reconciled with the House’s version before they can be enacted. So it is unclear how much funding Congress will ultimately appropriate for DOD’s labs and test ranges in the next fiscal year.

-In this Story-

artificial intelligence (AI), autonomous system, data management, directed energy, electromagnetic spectrum, Heidi Shyu, hypersonics, Jim Langevin, test and evaluation
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