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Need for speed: Air Force meets acquisition acceleration “Century Challenge” milestone


Secretary of the Air Force Heather Wilson announced the Air Force met its “Century Challenge” milestone this month, cutting 100.5 years of unnecessary schedule from existing weapons development programs since May 2018.

The challenge to streamline and accelerate programs was put forth to the service’s acquisition community as the Air Force focuses on adversaries who are rapidly innovating.

“We have to get critical technologies to the warfighter faster,” Wilson said. “Cost and performance matter a lot. So does speed.”

Wilson credited the Air Force’s success to Congressional support that provided new legal authorities to rapidly prototype and test weapons in Section 804 of the Fiscal 2016 National Defense Authorization Act, which the Air Force is implementing.

“History will look back on this era and see how the Air Force outpaced its competitors because of these authorities,” Wilson said. “The Air Force established guidelines for rapid prototyping and fielding in May of last year. This put greater control in the hands of our program managers, at a level where decision-making is critical.”

“We’re able to dismiss things that don’t add value to our programs while remaining exceptionally disciplined on things that do,” said Dr. Will Roper, the assistant secretary of the Air Force for acquisition, technology and logistics.

Roper challenged each program executive office to track both schedule and delivery acceleration over traditional approaches in a May 2018 memorandum to the force.

Among the systems that have benefitted from this streamlined approach are communications and defensive systems on the F-22 Raptor and F-15 Strike Eagle, cyber networks, satellites, hypersonic weapons and key intelligence technologies.

Underscoring a broader cultural shift beyond the Century Challenge, the Air Force also recently released a new science and technology strategy for 2030 and beyond. The strategy is a blueprint for maximizing its technological advantage.

The Air Force’s rapid acquisition efforts have been supported by a number of other highly targeted practices, including expedited software development at new Air Force “software factories” and streamlined small business outreach efforts that have resulted in some initial contract awards made in hours, not months.


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