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Materials Needs and R&D Strategy for Future Military Aerospace Propulsion Systems
technology development (6.3) constitute the parts of the science and technology program that are managed by the Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL). However, the National Research Council’s Committee on Materials Needs and R&D Strategy for Future Military Aerospace Propulsion Systems, which conducted the present study at the request of the Department of Defense (DOD), found that although the tiered process is useful for budgeting purposes, development of mate rials technologies rarely adhere to the process, and technology maturation is driven more by the identification of a critical need or the sponsorship of a champion within the DOD or industry. In recent years, engine development cycles have been reduced and are considerably shorter than the development cycles for new mate rials. This mismatch in development timelines, coupled with a reduced infra structure for engine development within government and industry, fewer development programs (transition opportunities), and increased aversion to risk by engine program managers, has decreased the support and advocacy for new materials development. The study found that this lack of support for new materials development has impacted the university environment. Structural materials education and research at U.S. universities have declined, and this decline in turn will threaten the viability of the domestic structural materials engineering workforce.
The bottom line, according to this report, is that the current approach to developing new materials, at low levels of maturity, is inadequate for today’s environment with reduced infrastructure, fewer transition opportunities, increased risk aversion, and limited advocacy and funding.
MATERIALS DEVELOPMENT ASSESSMENT
The DOD and the AFRL have in the past been able to provide the USAF and U.S. industry with a global competitive advantage in materials and propulsion technology and fielded systems. However, current and future planned AFRL engine programs have a decreased level of industrial-base cooperation and materials funding. It appears that the transition from basic research, to applied research, to advanced technology development, to the manufacturing of technology is not characterized by a formal, executable process, but rather is conducted on an ad hoc basis responding to “user pull” and short-term competitive imperatives.
The current planning processes of the AFRL Materials and Manufacturing Directorate and Propulsion and Power Directorate are evolving to address AFRL’s Focused Long Term Challenge (FLTC) approach. The AFRL recognizes the need for activities in the near term, intermediate term, and far term to address the full spectrum of the Air Force mission; however, the expanded scope of the Air Force mission has put significant pressure on the far-term propulsion materials funding profile. The committee believes it is essential that a balance be maintained between the near-term, intermediate-term, and far-term activities in response to the FLTC