JUST IN: Pentagon Developing New Sustainment Strategies for Great Power Competition

By Laura Heckmann

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OKLAHOMA CITY — With the Defense Department pivoting from decades of counterinsurgency operations in permissive environments to a new era of great power competition, the department not only needs to develop new weapons and technologies, it needs to change rigid sustainment strategies, a senior official said.

“Most of the strategies we have today are designed and were developed and were contracted for … an era without the thought of theater contested environments,” Christopher Lowman, assistant secretary of defense for sustainment, said at the National Defense Industrial Association’s National Logistics Forum Feb. 6.

“And we have to now assess where those contracted capabilities and services reside — understand what we should be planning for upfront in the product support planning cycle.”

Lowman said he is looking at the entire acquisition sustainment cycle, “so we're tackling this from the very beginning. From the concept of exploration through development, production and, of course, ultimately fielding to understand what changes in product support thinking do we have to employ now early on in our current and future acquisition programs to forestall the kind of challenges we have today with some of our legacy enduring platforms.”

Intellectual property and proprietary data rights are cases where the pendulum has swung “a little bit too far left,” Lowman said. “And we have a challenge now with the flexibility needed to change our sustainment strategies to meet current national security environment challenges.”

Intellectual property has constrained the ability to modify sustainment strategies as the environment has evolved over the past 20 to 30 years, he said.

“This is specifically where we have not procured the data rights or maintenance, repair and overhaul capability in a variety of different weapons systems,” he said. “Because we haven’t procured the necessary data rights, we don't have the ability to fully engage in a regional sustainment framework discussion, bringing an ally and partner capability online to help us repair in theater.”

Not having the intellectual property rights to parts and equipment also limits the ability to produce material through advanced manufacturing technologies, he said.

As a result, the department is evolving the way it thinks through its initial contracting framework for weapon systems, he said. “That contract competition where we are still in a competitive environment, whether that's a milestone B or milestone C, to require priced options for the level of intellectual property we need in order to implement the appropriate changes to our organic industrial base strategy.”

Lowman said the department is also inserting in advanced manufacturing a new concept for royalty-based access to intellectual property.

“So, think music industry, where every time a radio station plays a song, the artist gets a royalty,” he said. “Every time the Department of Defense prints a part, wherever that printing happens to occur, we will then compensate the intellectual property owner through a royalty-based fee.”

He said the concept is currently being worked through “on how we can accurately capture and enumerate activity against that intellectual property package.”

Lowman said the department is also investing in advanced manufacturing through a capability advantage project, with an objective to develop a reciprocal authority to operate process where “if one service brings a machine up on the [Department of Defense information network] anywhere in the world,” and gets the authority to operate on that network, “any service then has a reciprocal access to that [authority to operate], which kind of begins to break down the bureaucratic fare of going through an [authority to operate] and the need to do it over and over and over again. So we'll work through that this year.”

Lowman’s overall assessment of the current sustainment strategy environment was “rigid” and “vulnerable,” requiring a reexamination of acquisition programs to determine where flexibility can be built in as the national security environment changes over time.

He said his team is working with the Defense Acquisition University to begin amending not only policy, but also “the way in which we train our product support managers” — those responsible for designing life cycle sustainment plans.

The bottom line is flexibility, he said. The department “is going to require that need” to make changes to sustainment strategies over time. Lowman said to watch for policy changes coming out of the department.

“At the end of the day, when you think about it, the national security environment is not static. It's not frozen in time,” he said. “In the year that we produce a capability, and we procure it, it evolves. And so, our sustainment strategies also need to have the flexibility to evolve to meet the challenges of today, because they're different. And so, we will continue to press through that to see how that emerges.”


Topics: Defense Department

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