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Air Force Tries New Mix Of Acquisition Fixes

Posted by Colin Clark on

Deborah Lee James Atlantic Council acquisition

WASHINGTON: Citing “horrifying” times to let contracts even when their isn’t any competition — 17 months — Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James says the service will try several approaches to cut costs and speed cycle times.

As Breaking D readers know, the Air Force has actually driven overall acquisition costs down in the last two years, so these actions are not being taken in a vacuum.

But this rollout got the full treatment: appearance at the Atlantic Council; a logo; an acronymn (Bending the Cost Curve) and, of course, the secretary herself.

These elements make up BTCC:

  • Cost Capability Analyses, where the service weighs tradeoffs between requirements and costs. The T-X trainer, Long-Range Stand-off Weapon, Multi-Adaptive Prodded System and Space-Based Infrared System (SBIRS) follow-on will all be test cases for this, the secretary said. SBIRS may be a perfect program to test this on as nothing can eat up cash faster than a highly ambitious space weapons requirement. But the T-X program will be the first test, James says.
  • PlugFest Plus (sigh, what a name) a dog and pony show for new technologies borrowed from the Intelligence Community. The idea is to demonstrate open architecture systems directly to Air Force officials and ensure they can actually be bought if they look promising, James said. The effort will be introduced Jan. 20 to industry at George Mason University in Virginia. The intelligence system known as Distributed Common Ground System (DCGS) will be the first test of this. It’s open architecture makes it a good candidate, James says.
  • Air Force Technology Challenge, a $2 million prize contest run by the Air Force Research Lab. The first target– a mid-sized turbine engine to power drones.
  • Information Technology Business Analytics, a new office is being created to do better at what has been a pretty dismal sector of acquisition for the entire Defense Department, but especially for the Air Force.
  • Matchmaker Project is expected to allow the service and industry to do a better job of talking with each other about what really works in acquisition, especially at the cutting edge of management and systems. The first effort will bring folks from Lockheed Martin’s aeronautics and space systems divisions to discuss lessons learned from the C-130J and Space Based Infrared Systems (SBIRS), James told the Atlantic Council audience yesterday evening.

James made it pretty clear through her reference to Norm Augustine’s famous quip that the entire Pentagon budget would buy one plane by 2054, her body language and the fact of the efforts cited above that she wants to see significant improvements in costs and schedule over the next few years.

For those who’ve forgotten, here is Augustine’s Law Nr. 16: “In the year 2054, the entire defense budget will purchase just one aircraft. This aircraft will have to be shared by the Air Force and Navy three-and-a-half days each per week except for leap year, when it will be made available to the Marines for the extra day.”

What do you think?