COVID-19 NEWS: Defense Department Must Keep R&D On Track

By Connie Lee

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The COVID-19 pandemic can't put a stop to the Navy's research and development enterprise, a senior service official said April 15.

“We’re already amending some of our business processes, things where we were taking perhaps more time than we needed or not aggressively going after something as [much as] we could,” Assistant Secretary of the Navy for Research, Development and Acquisition James “Hondo” Geurts said during the Navy’s League’s Sea-Air-Space conference, which is being held virtually this year because of safety concerns surrounding COVID-19. The Navy is “understanding how to collaborate better as opposed to having duplicating functions.”

The Defense Department is speeding up early research-and-development efforts by working closely with academia and switching to a distributed research model, which will allow multiple organizations to work on initiatives more easily, he said.

“The big industrial initiatives are definitely important, but so are the small research-and-development ones,” he noted. The Navy hopes to “speed up cash flow” for R&D efforts by possibly awarding contract awards for Small Business Innovation Research grants earlier than expected, he noted.

“What we can’t afford to do is take a year or two off of research and development, lose those key performers because they are key to our readiness five and 10 years from now,” he said. “We’re looking to be as aggressive with them, if not more so, than we are with our more traditional defense partners.”

To cope with the virus, services have been taking steps such as accelerating contract awards. The Navy is taking a three-phrase approach to mitigate potential program delays and issues, Geurts said. These include protecting the physical health of the defense workforce; sharing best practices; and focusing on economic wellness.

“Those three things working together is helping to ensure we can continue to acquire the equipment and provide the services needed for our Marines and sailors,” he said.

Additionally, defense officials are pushing to complete backlogged acquisition work so they won’t be behind when the industry begins to recover from the coronavirus disruptions.

“We’re going to take all the ingenious thoughts, new efficiencies we found, changes in mindset because we’re going to have to apply that to accelerate in the recovery phase,” he said. “Ships still have to come out on time. We have got to do the maintenance. We have got to continue to supply lethal capabilities to our sailors and Marines.”

Topics: Defense Department

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