SPACE SYMPOSIUM NEWS: Air Force Seeking Increased Acquisition Authorities to Get After Operational Imperatives

By Josh Luckenbaugh
Secretary of the Air Force Frank Kendall

Air Force photo

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colorado — The Department of the Air Force does not want to wait a year or more to get started on developing capabilities relating to the department’s seven operational imperatives and has sent a request to Congress for “increased” acquisition authorities, Secretary of the Air Force Frank Kendall said Apr. 19.

Kendall released his seven operational imperatives for the department in March 2022, which include: defining resilient and effective space order of battle and architectures; achieving operationally optimized Advanced Battle Management Systems/Air Force joint all-domain command and control; defining the Next Generation Air Dominance system-of-systems; achieving moving target engagement at scale in a challenging operational environment; defining optimized resilient basing, sustainment, and communications in a contested environment; defining the B-21 long-range strike family-of-systems; and readiness of the Department of the Air Force to transition to a wartime posture against a peer competitor.

“So, a year has passed since we did the analysis and formulated the recommendations,” Kendall said during a media briefing at the Space Foundation’s Space Symposium. The Air Force took its recommendations to the Defense Department and submitted them in its annual budget request, “and now we’re waiting for the Congress to act,” Kendall said. The Department of the Air Force is seeking a 4.5 percent budget increase in fiscal year 2024 compared to its enacted budget for 2023, and the request includes 12 “new starts,” Kendall said.

“I could have started a lot of those things a year ago,” he said. “Now, I’m going to wait a good year, I would expect, and I’m worried that it might be longer than that” if Congress operates under a continuing resolution in fiscal year 2024, which would mean appropriations would remain at fiscal year 2023 levels until a budget is passed.

“Time is going by, and all those things that we worked hard to understand and formulate good solutions to, we're not able to act on [them],” Kendall said. “So, what are we doing about it? … One of the things we've done is submit a request to the Congress for increased authorities in acquisition that would allow us to start earlier and not wait for an entire budget cycle.”

The proposal “would allow the department to initiate programs without a new start authorization [by] Congress,” Kendall said during a keynote address at the symposium.

The additional authorities would be “limited,” he said, allowing the department to do early-stage research and development, systems engineering and risk reduction “up to the point of preliminary design review, and no further.”

“Basically, it just takes that relatively inexpensive earlier phase of the program, does some of that work and positions you for getting approval,” he said.

An example of a program that could benefit from these additional authorities is the Collaborative Combat Aircraft program, Kendall said. These unmanned aircraft would support the Air Force’s future Next Generation Air Dominance fighters. Kendall said in March the Air Force is planning for an initial fleet of 1,000 collaborative combat aircraft.

The additional authorities “would buy us at least a year — I would say at least a year and a half or two years,” he said. “And it’s essentially free. It does require some flexibility on the part of the Congress,” but it’s “totally unnecessary” for the department to have to wait so long to get started on these programs, he said.

Kendall acknowledged Congress has shown reluctance in the past to approve increased authorities like this, but the proposal has received “pretty good responses from people” on Capitol Hill, he said.

“The general reaction in conversations I’ve had — including with some committee leadership — they’ve been very positive,” he said. “I think there is a willingness to discuss this kind of initiative that might not have been there” in the past.

“I've tried to bring a great sense of urgency to the Department of the Air Force. I think I’ve succeeded in that,” he said. “We've got people mobilized, if you will, to respond to the challenges that we face. Now, we need to move forward as quickly as possible.”


Topics: Air Force News

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