Northrop CEO: Invest More in R&D

Northrop CEO Wes Bush told a crowd at AFA that he's worried about the drop in defense R&D investment from it's high in the 1960's.

Citing the increasingly fast-pace of global technological change and the need for the U.S. military to maintain its superiority over potential adversaries, Northrop CEO Wes Bush said U.S. industry and government should invest more funds in research and development.

“If you are going to have technological superiority, you’ve got to push technology, “ Bush told a large audience gathered at the 2013 Air Force Association’s Conference and Technology Exposition, National Harbor, Md.

Bush discussed the need for more investment in defense R&D in the context of historical trends, saying U.S. investment in this area has been on a decline for decades.  He specified that in the 1960’s the U.S. was spending about one percent of its gross domestic product, or GDP, on defense R&D. That number decreased to 0.75 percent in the 80s and then dropped further over the last decade to 0.5 percent.

“Defense research and development is a fraction of our nation’s gross domestic product. It has been on a downward slope for some time now,” he added.

Furthermore, R&D investment is expected to drop to 0.25 percent of GDP, Bush added.

Bush cited the Long-Range Strike-Bomber, or LRS-B, program as an example of needed technological development.  The Air Force plans for its new, next-generation LRS-B to be operational sometime during the 2020’s. It’s an aircraft Bush has interest in developing as his company is expected to be a major player in its acquisition. Northrop builds the Air Force’s most advanced bomber, the B-2.

Regarding questions about sustaining the industrial base, Bush said it was important that government and industry protect the supply chain and assist small defense business who might be especially vulnerable during the ongoing economic down turn.  Bush said there may need to be instances where government or the U.S. government intervene to help preserve the high-tech workforce and supply chain.