The “Chasm of Death”

Neal Kacena of Lockheed’s Skunk Works warns that huge cuts in aerospace research and development falls hardest on programs—and their designers—working in areas midway between “good idea” and fielded capability, or technology readiness levels 5 to 7. Spending only on basic research and on mature systems doesn’t support the middle ground, which he dubbed the “chasm of death,” where many programs apparently get abandoned because they are starting to get expensive. Without engineers skilled at nursing programs through that period, “you don’t have that capability in the future,” he said Tuesday during AFA’s Air & Space Conference at National Harbor, Md. This is precisely where potential adversaries are making a big investment, he said, noting the emergence of Russia’s PAK FA and China’s J-20 stealth fighters.