spurred by rapid growth in information technology, has greatly increased the demand for technical people, especially software engineers.


The NRC was requested to:

  • Gather information from key sources on the status of, and issues surrounding, the current aerospace infrastructure. This would include information gathering from government and national private sector stakeholders such as NASA, DARPA, FAA, warfighters, academia, senior industry executives, and military acquisition personnel.

  • Examine component sources such as the aircraft engine industry that have been successful despite low and intermittent production rates to determine if lessons learned have wider applicability.

  • Assess whether planned acquisition programs, considering their requisite S&T investment, will provide sufficient opportunities for innovation and to maintain a critical mass of activities to sustain a highly talented engineering talent base. Use planned aircraft and space vehicle development programs, major technology development and weapon system modification programs, and NASA programs as potential information sources. Consider international aerospace market sales prospects, as appropriate.

  • Identify issues relative to the maintenance of an adequately educated, trained, and innovative force of engineering and science professionals to support the national aerospace infrastructure and on how the aerospace industry can maintain its world leadership in technology development, innovation, and product quality.


To undertake this study, the NRC formed the Committee on the Future of the U.S. Aerospace Infrastructure and Aerospace Engineering Disciplines to Meet the Needs of the Air Force and the Department of Defense, under the auspices of the NRC’s Air Force Science and Technology Board. The committee focused its attention on the trends and issues with the most serious impact on the defense aerospace sector of the aerospace industry, and the committee’s recommendations are focused on remedies available to the Air Force. After reviewing the economic health of the aerospace industry; the Air Force and industry S&T talent base; the quality of test facilities and support capabilities; relevant DoD policies, regulations, and procedures; and management in principal government, industry, and academic organizations the committee made the following general observations:

  • Although procurement funding levels have recently increased slightly, today’s defense aerospace industry provides less work for aerospace engineers as a result of force drawdowns and reductions in procurement funds in the early 1990s. The military has fewer aerospace systems in development today than at any time in the recent past because of decreases in procurements; less apparent need for new systems since the end of the Cold War; and robust, life-extending techniques developed by industry for current aerospace systems that have given new life to older systems.

  • The pool of scientific, technical, and engineering talent in the aerospace field is shrinking as a result of losses to highly attractive, competitive industries. The military and the aerospace defense industry face similar recruitment challenges.

  • The Air Force does not have sufficient resources to support all of its missions and programs. This has caused excessive funding uncertainties and program instabilities.

  • Many commercial firms, both established and new, are reluctant to enter into government contracts (other than commercial sales) because of perceived “unreasonable” government practices.

  • The government service personnel system, which has rigid salary structures and complex, time-consuming hiring practices, has made meeting the needs of government research laboratories extremely difficult.

  • Because a unique characteristic of the aircraft engine industry is that defense products can piggyback onto its commercial products, this sector is not a good model for the aerospace industry as a whole.


The technical resources problem is not separable from the Air Force’s other duties. It affects and is affected by Air Force decisions about current and future missions and needs and what the Air Force develops, buys, tests, and uses in training, which in turn leads to what the future of the Air Force is to be. If the technical resources required are not considered when and where these fundamental matters are discussed and decided, their effects will not be properly taken into consideration. The Air Force pays close attention to those matters it holds most important. For many years, however, it enjoyed high-quality technical resources without paying specific attention to them, but times are changing. In the opinion of the committee, the technical resources will not continue to be of high quality without this specific attention.

In the committee’s opinion, this problem is best dealt with by the Chief of Staff of the Air Force saying he wants attention paid to technical quality and quantity and then appointing a deputy for this purpose, preferably as a sole responsibility.

Further, although S&T is important, in fact very important, it is only a part of what concerns the committee. The committee believes it would be desirable for a deputy chief of staff (DCS) to have responsibility for S&T as a part of his larger job. Alternatively, someone else could have direct S&T responsibility, as is true for most of the other elements of the DCS’s portfolio. This DCS, in the committee’s view,

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