Navy Trying Multiple Approaches to Accelerate Acquisition
NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. — The Navy is taking a variety of steps to try to onboard new capabilities faster as the Pentagon enters a new era of great power competition with China and Russia.
Vice Adm. David Johnson, principal military deputy to the assistant secretary of the Navy for research, development and acquisition, noted that some observers joke that the term “accelerated acquisition” is an oxymoron when it comes to the Pentagon’s procurement system.
“Accelerated acquisition is not just a theory or something we want to do, it’s something we are doing today,” he said April 11 during a panel discussion at the Navy League’s Sea-Air-Space conference in National Harbor, Maryland.
The service has established a “fast lane” with the Maritime Accelerated Capability Office, and the rapid prototyping, experimentation and development process, he said.
“Rapid acquisition has a scale,” he noted. “What’s fast for a missile or an unmanned undersea vehicle is different for a major ship platform. ... But from that end towards the more intermediate and smaller platforms or systems, there are growing sets of tools available” for faster procurement.
Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Navy for Research, Development, Test and Evaluation William Bray noted that “other transaction authorities” provided by Congress — which enable the Defense Department to avoid the bureaucratic red tape associated with the Federal Acquisition Regulation — provide an opportunity to speed things up.
In fiscal year 2016, the Navy awarded $24 million in contracts using OTAs. In fiscal year 2017, the value of OTA contracts nearly doubled to $42 million, according to a Bloomberg Government database.
The service is also pushing more decision-making authority down to program executive officer and program manager levels to streamline the acquisition process, Johnson noted.
Additionally, the Navy and Marine Corps are embracing advanced naval technology exercises, or ANTX, to test out new systems before deciding whether to put them in the acquisition pipeline, noted Marine Brig. Gen. Joseph Shrader, commander of Marine Corps Systems Command. The most recent exercise took place last month at Camp Pendleton, California.
“The way it works is … [officials] put out a broad area announcement. We say, ‘Hey, these are the areas that we’re looking at. Come one, come all,’” Shrader explained.
“We have the warfare centers come in with their stuff and also we have industry coming in. And it’s kind of like ... walking through a flea market. We go out and look at everything that’s set up,” he said.
Warfighters are then able to experiment with the technology to see how well it works and if it fits their needs.
“You take a look at what’s out there in industry that’s low-hanging fruit, if you will, ready to buy … then try it and decide whether we want to field it or not,” Shrader said. If a decision is made to purchase the equipment, the services will then hand it off to the appropriate program office that has a preexisting funding stream, he said.
Bray said this type of early prototyping and experimentation is useful for “boiling out that risk” of investing in technologies that aren’t ripe for fast acquisition.
Rear Adm. Douglas Small, program executive officer for integrated warfare systems, said the Navy is also moving forward with digital modeling and simulation.
The service has fielded a “virtual twin” of an Arleigh Burke-class destroyer to test out new equipment, he noted.
“We already have out there a system that is taking a pass at adding all of these combat systems,” he said. “We are pushing digitization, virtualization very, very hard. We think that’s the path towards really getting capability out there very quickly and getting immediate operational feedback from the sailors that are operating the system.”
Small said the Navy needs help from industry to speed up the contracting process. That includes “quality proposals that are delivered on time and that have pricing that’s not, you know, 40 percent over” what a product should cost, he said. Those types of price disputes lead to lengthy contract negotiations, he noted.
“We’ve got to stop that practice,” he said. “We need the partnership ... where we’re taking advantage of [companies’ independent R&D] and other things, and you’re coming in with your best sharpened-pencil proposals right out of the gate so we can get moving on these awards.”