Affordability is R&D focus for arms industry: executives

Wed Sep 18, 2013 6:33pm EDT
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By Andrea Shalal-Esa

NATIONAL HARBOR, Maryland (Reuters) - The single biggest driver for research and development in the U.S. arms industry is not a hot area like unmanned weapons, cyberspace, or surveillance, but the need to make systems affordable, executives and defense officials say.

Top U.S. defense officials are pressing industry to chip in more of its own funds for new projects and to make weapons more quickly and at lower cost.

These officials say they will also try to safeguard some government funding of new leap-ahead technologies as U.S. military spending declines in coming years.

General Mark Welsh, the top uniformed officer in the Air Force, told industry executives at the Air Force conference this week that mounting budget pressures meant they had to "break the price curve" that has sent the cost of weapons systems skyrocketing over the past decades.

"We can't afford it. We've got to come up with a different approach," Welsh said.

Lockheed Martin Corp (LMT.N: Quote), Boeing Co (BA.N: Quote) and other arms makers are paying close attention as they scramble for a piece of the few new acquisition programs on the Pentagon's horizon at a time when military budgets are facing nearly $1 trillion in cuts over the next decade.

Across the industry, executives are working to introduce new production techniques such as 3D printing, accelerate software development, switch to lighter materials that reduce fuel use, and leverage computer systems to streamline maintenance.

Companies are also funding their own research efforts.   Continued...