Navy Launches New Acquisition Reforms to Curb Rising Cost of Weapons

4/13/2011
By Grace Jean
NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. — The Navy plans to make greater use of existing technology and stress short timelines in weapon development, said the service's senior acquisition executive.
An example of this approach is the plan to salvage technologies from the recently terminatedExpeditionary Fighting Vehicle, an amphibious landing craft that the Marine Corps had been developing for almost 15 years. At least $3.3 billion were spent on EFV research and development.
“We don’t want to just slam the door shut on the EFV program,” said Sean Stackley, assistant secretary of the Navy for research, development and acquisition. “What we want to do is harvest those investments as we wind down the program,” Stackley told reporters after his remarks to the Sea Air Space Exposition April 13.
Some technologies will be transferred to the EFV replacement, a new amphibious combat vehicle. The ACV program will serve as a test case for the Navy’s new acquisition strategy to deliver major weapon systems faster, Stackley said.
The goal is to deliver an amphibious combat vehicle by 2014. "We must pick up the pace,” Stackley said in a keynote address at the conference. “Let’s use technology as the driver for how long it should take to deliver this capability.”
The same urgency seen in the mine-resistant ambush-protected truck program is needed in ACV, he said. “Production increased 100-fold in one years’ time to meet the need,” Stackley said. The Navy is seeking “to deliver capability at the speed of technology, and in time, to standardize the process across all programs,” he said.  
“I think the amphibious combat vehicle is a very good one to start with, because we’re not starting with a clean sheet,” said Stackley. “We have to arrive at a more affordable solution. We want to avoid a gap in delivering this capability." The focus will be on using existing technology to control the schedule, he added.
The Navy’s U-CLASS (Unmanned Carrier Launched Airborne Surveillance and Strike) program is also a candidate for the new acquisition strategy. That program will develop an autonomous fixed-wing aircraft to operate off carrier flight decks beginning in 2018.
 
Procurement reforms also could be seen in ship programs. That will require stepping back from what Stackley calls the “Big Bang” approach — the tendency to introduce a dozen new high-end capabilities onto a major platform and attempting to develop all of them simultaneously.
“What you’ve done is you’ve stacked up so much risk that now you’re going to go through a very long process with a lot of deliberate man-handling to retire those risks, develop those technologies, before you can ultimately integrate them on a ship,” he explained.
A smarter approach would be to rely on mature technologies and lay out a path that is driven by gradual increments, said Stackley.
Some of these principles were applied to the mobile landing platform program, a three-ship class of logistics vessels that will function as a sea-based staging area for ground troops and cargo. The original program, estimated at more than $1 billion, was too costly, Stackley said. The requirements were scaled back. “That allowed us to go to a lot of available technologies that didn’t require a lot of development,” said Stackley. The resulting ship is based on a commercial oiler, but includes several new components that will advance in tandem with production of the hull.
The shipbuilding industry in particular has drawn ire from lawmakers and Navy officials over theescalating costs of new ships. Shipyards point fingers at suppliers for rising prices in materials and at the Navy for fluctuating plans. But they also have acknowledged that the construction process itself is to blame. Many builders have invested in capital infrastructure projects to update their facilities to gain efficiencies.
But there is more to be done, Navy officials have said. When asked about the incentive for industry to speed ships and other technologies to the fleet, Navy Undersecretary Robert O. Work, who attended Stackley’s presentation, told National Defense, “The companies that can prove that they can deliver a good product on time, speed it to the fleet, they’re going to get more contracts. That’s the incentive.”
“Everyone will have to get into the mindset of competing for a smaller amount of dollars and performing,” he added. “We’re not going to award contracts just because someone’s been building something for a long time.” 

Topics: Business Trends, Doing Business with the Government, Defense Department, Procurement, Acquisition Reform, Shipbuilding

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