Air Force launches slate of new acquisition initiatives


The Air Force is launching a wave of new initiatives aimed at bringing down the cost and time associated with acquiring new technologies, service secretary Deborah Lee James announced Wednesday.

The initiatives are bundled together under the banner of "Bending the Cost Curve," a program title that comes with its own logo and the requisite BTCC acronym. The goal is to work more closely with industry in order to find solutions that work for both sides, James said during an event hosted at the Atlantic Council here in Washington.

"We have got to stop spending more and more in order to get less and less, so what we have to do is bend that cost curve," James said.

As an example of how slowly the acquisition system moves, James noted that the average time to award a sole-source contract is 17 months, something she called a "horrifying fact."

"We in the Air Force — and I can say this broadly across the Department of Defense as well — we are way too slow in all that we do," James said.

The BTCC plan is aimed at addressing both those issues. It is divided into three target areas — enhancing interactions with industry, expanding competition for programs among both traditional and non-traditional industry partners, and improving the service's internal acquisition processes.

James laid out the first big steps being taken in each of those categories during her speech.

In the "enhancing interactions" category, the service is launching a Cost Capability Analyses process, which will facilitate the flow of information back and forth between industry and the service. James held up a hypothetical example where a future jet may have a requirement for a 500 MPH speed, but industry could come back and say if the engine speed goes down to 450 MPH, it can save millions.

"Perhaps we can use that knowledge to make tradeoffs in how we develop our RFP [request for proposal], our evaluation factors, and maybe we might even choose to modify that requirement," she said.

To launch the use of this process, the service has selected four upcoming acquisition programs: the T-X trainer replacement, the Long-Range Stand Off weapon, the Multi-Adaptive Podded System and the Space-Based Infrared Radar System, also known as SBIRS.

T-X will be first, with James noting that they expect to release an RFP in about two years for that program.

Under the "expand competition" category, James announced a "PlugFest Plus" event at George Mason University for Jan. 20, where industry and government participants can show off technology to Air Force Research Lab officials. If a suitable technology is shown at the event, the goal is to use an Army acquisition model to quickly procure that system, perhaps in a matter of weeks.

The test of this strategy will focus on a Distributed Common Ground System, which James called a "good fit" because of the open architecture nature of that program.

If the event is successful, James said, the idea is to expand it to future programs.

Internally, the service is working to become better at sharing best practices through its "Matchmaker Project," wherein industry and service acquisition officials can get together and figure out what worked and didn't work following the completion of a program. Those experts will then share their information with acquisition officials who are working on upcoming projects, with the goal to increase the knowledge pool of best practices.

For information technology, the service is standing up an IT Business Analytics unit, which will collect business data and help drive decisions on procuring the increasingly expensive IT infrastructure needed by the service.

The Pentagon is littered with the remains of acquisition reforms, but James indicated that starting relatively small and building up, as well as the personal focus from top service officials, should keep these programs on track.

"All the ideas I spoke about today are within [Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Welsh] and I's purview," James said. "These can all be implanted within our own authorities, so we are marching out to do so."

"None of this is easy, because it involves change, and change is hard. but I would submit it's worth putting the effort into it," James concluded.

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