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Acquisitions enterprise: Experimentation and agility

WASHINGTON (AFNS) -- A key leader in Air Force acquisitions testified Jan.7 on Capitol Hill before the House Armed Services Committee on acquisition reform, explaining how the Air Force is improving its acquisitions processes through agility and experimentation.

Rich Lombardi, the acting assistant secretary of Air Force acquisition, discussed how the acquisitions enterprise needs to focus on three areas to include strategic planning, prototyping and experimentation, science and technology, as well as modular and open systems architecture.

“Over the past two years the Air Force has made great strides to improve the strategic planning process as evidenced by the release of the visionary 30-year strategy,” Lombardi said. “We’re also reinvigorating the use of prototype and experimentation for the purpose of providing warfighters with the opportunity to explore novel operational concepts … reduce risk and lead times to develop and field advanced weapon systems."

Lombardi said the Air Force’s science and technology program plays an integral role in technology development, often fielding temporary operational prototypes to meet urgent warfighter needs. However, they are not necessarily the final solution, but a stepping stone to a long-term solution that addresses aspects of producibility, reliability and sustainability.

According to Lombardi, the Air Force developed a system in response to urgent warfighter needs received from the Combined Joint Special Operations Task Force in Afghanistan. The Air Force developed and deployed a sensor payload on a tactical remotely piloted air vehicle. This capability has been very successful in supporting numerous activities in theater and is credited with improvised explosive device detection, weapons cache identification, and enemies being captured or killed.

The use of modular and open systems architectures allows the Air Force to be more agile and adaptable which is why there is an emphasis on fielding systems more rapidly and building resilient systems that are inherently resistant to predictive failure, according to the written testimony.

“The Air Force has more programs than ever implementing modular and open system architecture approaches,” Lombardi said. “These methods can help shorten developmental timelines. Such systems are designed to later upgrade which can allow us to better manage our risk and schedule.”

Lombardi also addressed business-related challenges by explaining Open Systems Acquisition, a new acquisition approach prototype.

“It will enable aggressive competition toward rapid prototyping and utilize other transaction authority to create a consortium specifically focused on reaching non-traditional defense companies,” he said.

This model was tested last year as a pilot initiative for the Air Force Distributed Common Ground System, the Air Force’s primary intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance collection, processing, exploitation, and analysis and dissemination system.

Two teams of developers were awarded contracts for their products that were offered at less than 80 percent of the original government cost estimate.

“I firmly believe the Air Force acquisition enterprise has and is building an even stronger engineering and program management culture that values strategic agility as a core capability,” Lombardi said. “We look to capitalize on the complex and dynamic environment of today and tomorrow to ensure our Airmen have what they need to meet any challenge or any threat, anywhere in the world.”