During this first week of January 2024 many of our military and industry followers and readers from across the globe are returning to their workplaces from well-earned, end-of-year holidays. As the broad defense training enterprise did not rest in the run-up to 2024, here’s an opportunity to obtain an update on several, key community developments that gained our attention since mid-December.
Awaiting President Biden’s Signature
This past December 13, the US Senate passed the Fiscal Year (FY) 2024 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) that supports $841.4 billion in funding for the Defense Department. As this article was posted, the legislation awaits President Joe Biden’s signature. To manage expectations, this brief review provides highlights from the baseline 3,093-page document that are relevant to the simulation and training industry, and steers clear of the social and related issues outside of MS&T’s editorial purview stapled to the spending bill.
Advancing S&T Technologies
In a nod to the promise and progress of US Army’s Synthetic Training Environment and gaming technology to support this service’s, and, indeed, broader joint, training, the bill’s Section 4101 (Procurement) maintains the Biden administration’s funding request for the two budget lines ($234,965,000 and $9,698,000 respectively).
The Defense Innovation Unit (DIU) is advancing and helping to deliver emerging, cutting-edge technologies better, faster and cheaper across the Pentagon enterprise. S&T has been one DIU focal point. This legislation provides another boost for S&T as it further codifies the unit within the Pentagon bureaucracy, and contains Section 4201 (Research, Development, Test and Evaluation) authorization for a minor increase in organization funding.
The administration’s disparate FY24 defense budget requests to advance other “simulation” activities across Pentagon funding lines fared well on Capitol Hill. In one of many instances of Congress authorizing and even increasing requested budget amounts, the FY24 spending bill provides $30,985,000 under Section 4102 (RDT&E)’s System Development and Demonstration subsection for Constructive Simulation Systems Development.
The congressional defense committees provided attention-getting language on their perceived pace of integrating US defense aviation training into the synthetic training environment. Under DoD Authorizations for Procurement - Air Force Programs, Sec. 148 - Plan for long-term Air Force fighter force structure, the conferees initially noted they “recognize the importance of in-flight training,” but added, they “also believe that expanded use of complementary synthetic training environments provides an effective and efficient way to train against high-end threats in realistic combat environments while employing the latest tactics, techniques, and procedures without the imposition of artificial or restrictive operational limitations. Finally, the conferees believe that adoption, implementation, and integration of advanced synthetic training environments has been unnecessarily slow and should proceed more quickly across the joint force.”
The NDAA conferees validated their commitment to advance this part of the Pentagon’s aviation programs as they met the White House budget request for a number of related technology efforts, including full FY24 funding of Air Force LVC Operational Training (LVC-OT).
AI and ML
The US Defense Department is developing artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) for use across its enterprise. The FY24 defense bill advances AI and ML in a number of areas, from detailing mundane bureaucratic responsibilities for acquisition and other tasks, to specifying focused investments in Section 4201 (RDT&E) for Applied Research and Advanced Technology Development. AI and ML remain on MS&T’s editorial watchlist for 2024, as the S&T industry and the services are stepping up their efforts to use the two enablers across military learning organizations.
Competing Spending Priorities
The FY24 NDAA fully supported a number of key funding lines from the Biden administration’s budget request for defense simulation and training programs. With a US presidential election scheduled for this November, this is the current Biden administration’s final DoD budget. The next US administration will face a number of funding imperatives to support its defense training and education enterprise. Aside from the NDAA conferees opining above that the Pentagon needs to step up its pace of integrating joint force aviation training into the synthetic environment, the services will need continued funding to more fully capture the potential of AI, XR and other enabling technologies for their learning activities, modernize their ranges and other infrastructure that round out their programs, and support other requirements.
The report’s full text prior to official US government publication may be found here.
Global Military S&T Community Engagement
Beyond the FY 2024 NDAA, the Biden administration directly and indirectly expanded engagement opportunities for the US services and S&T industry with their global counterparts. This past December 27, the Pentagon released its fact sheet Department of Defense Concludes “Decisive Year” In The Indo-Pacific Region providing an attention-getting summary of US DoD exercises and other activities with its allies and friends across this region.
This fact sheet was a bookend for other end-of-year agreements with the US and its allies and friends in other corners of the globe.
The MS&T team sends you best wishes for 2024 and looks forward to continuing to provide informative, timely S&T insights and comments in this quick-paced defense market.