How the US keeps its R&D spending under wraps


An unacknowledged SAP - a black program - is a program which is considered so sensitive that the fact of its existence is a 'core secret', defined in USAF regulations as "any item, progress, strategy or element of information, the compromise of which would result in unrecoverable failure". In other words, revealing the existence of a black program would undermine its military value.

Within the USAF, there are signs that SAPs form a 'shadow department' alongside the white-world programs. So far, no USAF special program director has gone on to command USAF Materiel Command (AFMC), AFMC's Aeronautical Systems Center (ASC), or their predecessor organizations. These positions have been dominated by white-world logistics experts. On the other hand, several of the vice-commanders in these organizations in the 1990s have previously held SAP oversight assignments, pointing to an informal convention under which the vice-commander, out of the public eye, deals with highly sensitive programs. The separation of white and black programs is further emphasized by arrangements known as 'carve-outs', which remove classified programs from oversight by defense-wide security and contract-oversight organizations.