Faster, smarter: Speed is key in acquisition reform

  • Published
  • By Amy Christopherson
  • Air Force News Service
Dr. Will Roper, assistant secretary of the Air Force for acquisition, technology and logistics, spoke about fielding tomorrow’s Air Force faster and smarter by reforming the acquisition process at the Air Force Association’s Air Warfare Symposium in Orlando, Dec. 28.

During his presentation, he emphasized that speed is paramount in improving the acquisition process.

“Going faster is not just a tag line for us; it’s a dead serious business about keeping the Air Force competitive and dominant,” he said.

According to Roper, there are two important components of why the Air Force cares about improving acquisitions—who is doing it and why the Air Force is doing it.

“’Who’ starts with our warfighters,” he said. “Everything is about their mission.”

The “why” is the U.S. competing against peer adversaries who can match its technology. It’s a time of unprecedented technological advancement, so the Air Force must have the fastest acquisition system to keep on winning.

However, in order to maintain its competitive edge, Roper explained the Air Force’s four-step plan to improve the acquisitions process.

The first step is to supercharge the acquisition engine by exploring ways to buy things earlier. The service can speed up its processes using programs like Section 804 of the National Defense Authorization Act of 2016, which encourages acquisition programs to streamline their processes.

The second step is to expand industrial partnerships.

“We need to change ourselves to a partnership model,” he said.

He elaborated on how the Air Force’s contracting process needs to match the pace of startups. Startups often move in a week, or even a day. So three months, which the Air Force once considered fast, is unacceptable now.

“We have to make sure the next generation of companies find it easy to work with us so we can do business at the pace of relevance,” Roper said. “But it’s not enough to just have the door open—where’s the rest of the house? Where’s the lifelong connection to the Air Force?”

The service is opening the door to startups through initiatives such as Air Force Pitch Day, which is scheduled for March 6 and 7. Pitch Day encourages small businesses and start-ups to submit ideas for a chance to be awarded same-day contracts.

“We can build the best airplanes and satellites,” he said. “But we will lose if we can’t update the software at the speed of relevance in this century.”

The third step is to create a big idea pipeline, to keep building and challenging old operational concepts and old industrial models.
“A few programs are creating the pipeline but more are needed,” Roper said. “So if you’re here from industry and you’ve got a big idea, a war-winning idea, a game changer, we need you.”

The Air Force’s Spark Tank and Vice Chief’s Challenge invite Airmen and start-up companies to share their ideas to help establish a culture of innovation.

The fourth and final step—increase sustainment innovations—answers the questions of how to pay for the big idea pipeline.

The Rapid Sustainment Office, which was created approximately four months ago, has already transitioned commercial technology to cost savings for the Air Force using additive manufacturing to make replacement parts for airplanes, additive repair to replace parts rather than scrapping them and buying new. Predictive maintenance uses artificial intelligence and data analytics to predict when parts need to be replaced.

“I don’t know where all this is going,” he said. “But I see potential for big savings. Enough that we could potentially afford that big idea pipeline. Seventy percent of our budget is sustainment; if we only saw 5 to 10 percent of that as savings, that’s a lot of big idea pipeline.”

Roper concluded the Air Force is on the right track but it needs to keep working to improve and speed up its processes.

“We need light speed in all of our endeavors, Air Force,” he said. “We’re off to a great start but this can’t be the only AFA we talk about this. We need to talk about it every time, keep our foot on the accelerator and remember that while ready to fight and win today, we are also competing."