DoD Procurement Summit: Weapon Buyers Face Uphill Climb

By Sandra I. Erwin

Next week, the top weapons buyers from the U.S. military and senior industry executives will convene at the 2011 Program Executive Officer/Systems Command Commanders’ Conference, known as PEO/SYSCOM.
Held at the Defense Acquisition University, Fort Belvoir, Va., PEO/SYSCOM is an invitation-only, non-attribution event that is expected to draw a crowd of nearly 400 participants.
The theme this year: “The Challenge Before Us: Implementing Effective DoD and Industry Strategies for Affordability and Program Success.”
Translation: Budget cuts are upon us, and there will be no tolerance for wasteful spending, budget overruns and delays in program schedules.
Keynoting the conference will be the Pentagon’s top procurement executive Frank Kendall, acting undersecretary of defense for acquisition, technology and logistics, as well as Robert F. Hale, the Defense Department’s comptroller.
Kendall is following in the footsteps of Ashton Carter, who was acquisition executive until he moved up to deputy secretary of defense just a few weeks ago.
According to one procurement official who plans to attend the conference, Kendall will be asking acquisition program managers and contractors in the audience to commit to the “better buying power” tenets that Carter launched more than a year ago, in an effort to cut costs, promote innovation and accelerate programs.
“They have to fix the things that are not working,” the official says.
Kendall’s audience will include newly minted acquisition program managers who will be looking for some direction on “where we are, and where we are going,” he says.
PMs are likely to hear a similar message as the one that was delivered to Army officials and contractors last week at a procurement conference in Dearborn, Mich. The mantra: “If it doesn’t add value to support the war fighter, then we’re going to get rid of it,” one attendee told National Defense.
Acquisition managers are feeling the pressure. The scrutiny is only going to intensify, the official says.
After years of double-digit budget hikes andlittle accountability for cost overruns, military and civilian leaders in charge of weapon systems programs have become accustomed to going back to Congress and asking for more money. Those days may now be over.
Also weighing heavily on the procurement work force is thepressure to modernize the services’ aging fleet, even as budgets decline. The last decade was a huge missed opportunity. The defense budget doubled and most of the military’s equipment was not modernized. The services’ inventories include predominantly Reagan-era aircraft, ships and ground vehicles that eventually will become technologically obsolete and increasingly costly to maintain. The good news is that this aging equipment is still far better than anything else out there. The M-1 Abrams tank still the best in the world. U.S. Navy ships are unmatched. The Air Force F-22, despite setbacks, is way ahead of any other fighter.
The Army probably is in the worst shape of all the services when it comes to modernizing equipment. Itstarted 15 major weapons programs that ultimately were canceled.
For the Navy, the problem is it can’t build enough ships to replace old ships that get taken out of service. So the fleet is down from 316 ships 10 years ago to 288 today. For the Air Force, the challenge is the age of the fleet. The average age for tactical aviation aircraft is 22 years, bomber fleet 35 years, tankers 47 years, electronic warfare fleet 37 years. The Marine Corps spent 16 years and $4 billion developing an expeditionary fighting vehicle that was terminated earlier this year, after just seven prototypes were produced.
One of the lessons from the last decade is that the only procurement programs that are considered “success stories” — the MRAP mine resistant trucks, the advanced body armor and unmanned aerial vehicles — were funded outside the base budget via supplemental war requests, and were managed outside the normal acquisition process.
For managers of major weapon programs, there might be less money, but there is plenty to ponder.

Topics: Procurement, Acquisition Reform, Defense Department

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