Defense-related R&D as a model for “Grand Challenges” technology policies
National defense represents a significant share of most OECD governments’ R&D budgets and an even higher share of their mission-oriented R&D spending. This public R&D investment has focused on research and innovation supporting defense missions, and in many cases the military services of these governments have purchased weapons systems incorporating the resulting technologies. Defense-related R&D investment has influenced innovation in the broader civilian economy of several OECD nations, including the United States, the United Kingdom, and France. The scope and nature of this influence remains uncertain and subject to considerable debate. Nonetheless, policymakers throughout the industrialized economies have expressed interest in “applying the lessons” of defense-related and other mission-oriented R&D programs to such challenges as climate change. This paper examines the characteristics of defense-related mission R&D programs in the industrial economies, with particular attention to the subset of nations for which reliable longitudinal data on defense R&D spending are available. I highlight the characteristics that distinguish mission-oriented R&D in this field from mission-oriented R&D in other sectors and to point out some significant differences among OECD economies in the structure of their defense-related R&D programs. The discussion also emphasizes the ways in which the unique structure of defense-related R&D limit its utility as a model for mission-oriented R&D programs aimed at other goals.
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