Service Chiefs Want More Authority Over Acquisition Process
The chiefs of the Navy, Marine Corps and Coast Guard agree that they want greater control in how platforms and systems are acquired in order to help combat schedule delays and cost overruns.
With service chiefs responsible for defining requirements and procurement officials responsible for acquiring those systems, it creates two chains of command where changes to requirements cannot easily be made, said Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Jonathan Greenert.
“There are too many people touching requirements that ultimately I am accountable for,” Greenert said at the Navy League’s Sea-Air-Space expo in National Harbor, Md. "In the budget environment that we see ahead, a very complicated [situation with] maybe another continuing resolution [and] with sequestration, it's inevitable that you need to reprogram, and we need to be able to program and reprogram quickly."
The acquisition process is “constipated,” agreed Marine Corps Commandant Gen. James Amos.
When the Marine Corps decided to cancel the planned expeditionary fighting vehicle in 2010, Amos said he recognized the need for a different amphibious assault vehicle to take its place. Acquisition officials warned it would be 2023 before the amphibious combat vehicle — one of the EFV’s replacements — could reach initial operational capability.
“You think about that. Thirteen years to design a vehicle, do all the stuff that you got to do, and then actually have it stand up where you've got half a dozen of them,” he said.
While they acknowledged that the acquisitions process has produced bloated programs that have run far over budget, Greenert and Amos defended Lockheed Martin’s F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, which has been much maligned as the poster child for how the process is broken.
There is no alternative for the Marine Corps to the F-35B, Amos said.
"We're in what they call developmental testing,” he said. " There will be cracks, there will be issues, and you will deal with them. It’s been that way with every single platform we've ever built."
Greenert said he needed a fifth generation strike fighter, so the Navy is “all in” but added that it has to perform.
"It has problems. It is making progress,” he said. “I believe it will come in at an acceptable amount of time in the track it is currently on. ... I do not at this point believe that it is time to look for an exit ramp … in the Navy for the F-35C."
But reforming the process won’t happen unless industry and the military are willing to share risk, said Vice Adm. John Currier, vice commandant of the Coast Guard. Military officials also need to go into the process knowing that sometimes, they won’t be able to get everything they want and will have to settle for “good enough.”
“Until we come to that understanding, we're just going to be chasing our tails on this,” Currier said. “The processes are so ingrained. They're so institutionalized. We're going to have to break some china to change this.
The cost of equipment has soared, Amos said. While it runs around $1,700 to equip an infantryman going to Iraq in 2003, it costs about $10,000 to do the same for a private first class doing patrols in Afghanistan.
Some purchases are non-negotiable, like the ceramic body armor that make up $4,000 of that cost. But in a more fiscally restrained environment, the military will have to continue using some of its older equipment and platforms.
“The days of being flush with cash are gone,” Amos said. “Our vehicles that we were going to take and send to the boneyard and put someplace else, we're actually sending to the depot right now. We're going to live with the equipment we have.”
In a separate lunchtime speech at the conference, an audience member asked Greenert if the service chiefs were working with Congress to change how the Navy acquires new platforms.
“Not to my knowledge,” Greenert said.
“Would it be advisable?” the questioner asked, hopefully. The crowd, made up mostly of industry officials, broke into laughs.
“I think it might be advisable,” Greenert acknowledged. He and Sean Stackley, assistant secretary of the Navy for research, development and acquisition, are looking at ways to streamline the process within the Department of the Navy, but if not enough can be done it may be time to consider altering the 1986 Goldwater-Nichols Act that created the current system, he said.
Photo Credit: Navy, Defense Dept., Lockheed Martin