Discussions with personnel in the Materials and Manufacturing and the Propulsion and Power Directorates of the AFRL indicate that the directorates address three broad categories of military needs in the area of materials research: (1) near-term needs: rapidly deliver technical innovation, driven by warfighter emergencies; (2) intermediate-term needs: develop technology options that meet the needs of capability developers; and (3) far-term needs: conduct long-term research, driven by a bold technology goal. These categories align with the Focused Long Term Challenges approach to capability planning currently employed by the USAF.
It was reported that 80 percent of the Materials and Manufacturing Directorate’s funding is directed toward the long term. The immediate needs of the warfighter are addressed by committing staff as needed to solve short-term issues.
As materials in propulsion systems become more mature and reach high TRLs or MRLs (moving from 6.2 programs to 6.3 or 6.4 activities), the requirements are driven by the Propulsion and Power Directorate or specific program offices. Directorate funds for the nearest-term requirements were estimated to be approximately 3 percent of the materials R&D budget,42 since the majority of these costs are in the fielded-systems operational budgets. In addition, there is a special Laboratory Director’s fund of approximately $1 million per year, as noted in Section 3.2.1, to support new material systems or new processes. A portion of the directorate’s budget is used to address fielded-system support issues; however, the majority of this type of directorate work that addresses problems arising in fielded propulsion systems is funded by the specific program offices or other organizations.
In assessing propulsion material technology needs, the committee reviewed a wide range of Air Force requirements and planning and implementation activity. One of the difficulties in assessing the relative adequacy of the propulsion materials program(s) in comparison to the successes and failures of the past results from the changing mission requirements and evolving technologies in the area. This complexity is well stated in a report summarizing a group of materials and propulsion technology workshops held at Wright-Patterson AFB in 2008.43
The USAF is entering a period of rapidly evolving new technologies. In propulsion, the new programs in air and space propulsion and power are producing war-winning concepts,