JUST IN: Air Force to Undertake 'Night Court'-Like Program Review

By Yasmin Tadjdeh

The Air Force is looking to separate the wheat from the chaff as it examines its science and technology portfolio and looks to reallocate funding to support the acquisition of new and emerging technologies, the head of the service said Feb. 15.

Reminiscent of the Army’s “night court" sessions conducted in recent years, Air Force officials plan to conduct program reviews and begin trimming funding for S&T projects that are unlikely to bear fruit and make it across the so-called “Valley of Death,” said Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall. The term "Valley of Death” refers to the challenges organizations face when trying to transition their product from a prototype to a program of record within the Defense Department.

“What we’ve done over the years I think is kind of pile up things on one side of the valley and not done enough to get it across to the other side,” Kendall said during a webinar hosted by the Mitchell Institute for Aerospace Studies. “At the end of the day, it’s about priorities, resources and requirements on whether you get things to the other side or not.”

The military must be more disciplined as it is kicks off new S&T efforts, he noted. “I've seen a few projects, I’ll be blunt, that I don't think are ever going to get into the field,” he said.

“I don’t think we have a shortage of innovation. I don’t think we have a shortage of technology,” he added. “What we have to do is make smart decisions about how we prioritize things.”

Kendall and other department leaders, such as Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Charles “CQ” Brown Jr. and Chief of Space Operations Gen. John “Jay” Raymond, will soon sit down to determine which programs should be cut.

Questions officials will ask about specific programs include: “Are they cost effective? Are they affordable? Are they going to confer an operational advantage that matters?” Kendall said.

For those that pass the test, the Air Force will ensure they have the necessary funding as well as work to accelerate their transition into programs of record, he said.

“There are some things where I think we’ll say, ‘That is clearly a good idea. We’re going to make sure that’s fully funded in the five-year [future years defense] program and we’re going to make sure we get on a path to fielding,’” he said. However, “there are others where we’re going to want to go and do some more analysis and say, ‘This looks like it might be a good idea but I’m not quite sure about the cost effectiveness.’”

Leaders will be on the lookout for technologies that seem promising but may not be operationally viable, Kendall noted.

“We’re going to try and do some sorting, if you will, to make sure we’re focused on the things that have the highest payoff,” he said. “In a world in which we were by far the dominant military power, we could afford to let 1,000 flowers bloom. We can't do that anymore. We've got to focus our efforts on things that we really need or that are going to make the greatest difference on the battlefield.”

These deliberations will affect the fiscal year 2024 budget, Kendall told National Defense. The president's budget request for 2023 is reportedly in the final stages of preparation and is expected to be released sometime in March or April.

Topics: Air Force News, Air Power

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