Why Every Research Portfolio Should Include Basic Science

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July 17, 2017 | Originally published by Date Line: July 17 on

The side prepared to fight is the side that wins the battle—and basic science research provides the first step in being prepared.

Like all aspects of the military, the research and development sector thrives on a foundation of cause and effect. Applied research questions more easily match this formula because you can make concrete claims such as “this widget increases accuracy by 32 percent,” or “new training protocols have reduced Class A flight mishaps by 18 percent.” Basic science has a more indirect connection to operational outcomes, which often makes its utility easier to overlook. This oversight, however, creates a critical vulnerability in the military research and development structure that can leave operational units performing below their maximal potential.

Consider one fundamental need of military readiness: The tactics of tomorrow will be different than the tactics of today. Although this statement may have been accepted as a truism in military communities for centuries, it is not always clear how to take tangible steps toward tomorrow. Although applied science research helps to address this issue, basic science research allows us to explore tomorrow’s tactics today—making basic research an investment into our future readiness. The battlefields of tomorrow are being built as we speak, and pieces on the board can be set into motion decades in advance.

Our future capabilities will be built on projects that advance basic science. Still, there are numerous challenges between then and now that must be met and overcome. For example, how do you justify basic science expenditures amidst the flurry of immediate needs our forces face today? What kind of basic science should the military pursue? How do you evaluate the potential of a basic science project?