Lessons from recent conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq are shaping Air Force
plans to fine-tune capabilities in “time-critical, time-sensitive targeting,”
said Col. Michael Snodgrass, the Air Force deputy director for operational capability
The Air Force is in the “very early stages of doing capabilities-based
planning. ... We are still getting our arms around it,” he told National
Defense during the 2003 National Aeronautical Systems and Technology conference,
in Dayton, Ohio.
To improve capabilities for time-critical strike, one immediate priority is
to be able to analyze intelligence faster, he explained. “We have a tremendous
amount of intelligence capability, but we have to be able to analyze it and
quickly determine what is important.”
The Air Force wants to reduce its reliance on human operators and have more
machines talking to other machines, analyzing photography and other documents,
he said. People only should be used in critical situations when human decision
making is needed, he said.
Snodgrass’ office is working with the users, the Air Combat Center and
the Air Force Materiel Command to put together a game plan on how to go about
addressing capability shortfalls.
“Then we kind of back out of it and let the major commands and the labs
do what they do best, which is invent technologies and investigate alternatives,”
he said. “They are the ones who go out and do the hard work of trying
to fill that shortfall. ... There are a series of investigations that we go
through before we determine what the real requirement is,” he said.
He cautioned that the Air Force, to help meet its modernization goals, should
work more closely with industry.
“We need to be a team with industry,” he said. “If what we
are thinking and saying does not make sense to them and does not allow them
to morph their approach to be able to fulfill our requirement, then we are going
The Air Force needs to work at teaming up with industry, said Brig. Gen. Edward
Mahan, the director of the Air Force Information Dominance Office, at the NASTC
conference. Mahan acknowledged that industry is trying to understand the process
and that it will take time to figure out the new ways of doing business. “It
is just very difficult,” he added.
Mahan is a strong proponent of agile acquisition, a concept the Air Force adopted
in recent years. Agile acquisition aims to deliver capabilities quickly. Mahan
is looking at timelines of 12 months or less. “Nine months would be great,”
To speed up the acquisition process, testers, contractors and the war fighters
have to cooperate. Also, contractors need to be given incentives to deliver
the products much faster, he said.
“The contract folks at the Pentagon are working to figure it out,”
Another helpful method is spiral development, which focuses on accelerating
the acquisition process and incrementally upgrading the capabilities.
“It’s pretty ambitious,” he said. He stressed that, for spiral
development to be successful, program managers have to set realistic cost estimates
and contain the cost growth.
The buzzword in spiral development is the so-called 80 percent solution. “Eighty
percent solutions are OK,” Mahan noted. “You get the first key capability
out there, and the good ideas spiral into the subsequent development.”
However, critics charge that spiral development could end up making things
worse, by adding time and cost to the procurement process.
“It’s an open debate, so we are still wrestling with that idea,”
Mahan said. Congress has become a little bit more accepting of spiral development,
“We have to make sure that everybody understands that we may never get
to 100 percent because of funding. We don’t say that the 80 percent solution
is the final solution. We are still trying to work on that.”
Just as speed counts in fighting a war, speed in acquisition also is paramount,
Mahan stressed. He said that the Air Force went from delivering capabilities
in five years, a few decades ago, to delivering capabilities in 10 years.
Snodgrass said that feedback from the operators who fought in recent conflicts
help drive the requirements process and decide what should be accelerated.
“Obviously, in combat, emerging technologies aren’t quite ready
for use, but we will capitalize on that combat experience,” he said. “It
is the technology piece that is going to be the most important as we go forward.”
Air Force decision makers have to make sure that industry understands “that
we start with effects, [then go to] the capabilities and then the requirements
that generate those capabilities, and then programs that fill those requirements,”
said Lt. Gen. Richard Reynolds, the commander of the Aeronautical Systems Center.
“We all have to have this common understanding of how the process works.
We will probably do more of what I have called capabilities planning with industry,”