Air Force to speed up system deliveries by pushing for more competition

The Air Force announced a new program it hopes will speed up the time it takes to develop and field systems by making companies compete in the design and development phase.

The program, dubbed “should schedule,” would give priority to a company that can deliver faster results in the design and development phase for established programs, said Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James during a Sept. 14 speech at the Air Force Association’s Air and Space Conference in National Harbor, Maryland.

“If an industry partner can propose a solution that creditably offers a way to accelerate successful [engineering and manufacturing development] then that company would have a competitive advantage for the award,” James said.

The engineering and manufacturing development (EMD) phase takes place before production when the system is designed. The goal of the phase is to develop affordable and executable manufacturing processes, complete system fabrication and test the system before starting production.

The Defense Department puts an emphasis on speeding up the acquisition process with its Better Buying Power acquisition plan, which is now in its third iteration. The policy champions quicker acquisition processes to stay ahead of threats and keep up with changing technologies.

“When it comes to acquisition, as far as I’m concerned, speed should be in the future a fundamental metric,” James said.

The Air Force is considering a few small programs as pilots for “should schedule,” James said. The Bomber Armament Tester, the Enhanced GPS/INS Modernization Program and the Advanced Precision Kill Weapons System are all candidates.

Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James, left, accompanied by Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Welsh III. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)
Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James, left, accompanied by Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Welsh III. AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)

The accelerated EMD plan still would be analyzed by independent engineers, James said. She added it will not become a reason for the Air Force to award sole-source contracts on an item. The service still will use multiple industry teams.

The program will work in conjunction with the already established “should cost” program. Should cost challenges industry to reduce the expense of a system so that realized savings can be pumped back into the program and portfolio.

Should cost was part of the first version of Better Buying Power and has cut program costs by $2 billion throughout the last several years.

“We now have hundreds more air-to-air and air-to-ground weapons that have become available in today’s fight because we were able to buy them back into our inventory through ‘should cost’ savings out of our weapons portfolio,” James said. “In other words, we saved in those accounts and we were able to plow those savings back into buying more.”

In a separate interview with Federal News Radio’s Emily Kopp on Federal Drive, James urged Congress to find some solution avoid to sequestration and come up with a long-term continuing resolution by the end of the month.

James said the service has contingency plans ready for a possible government shutdown from previous years, which is becoming more of a possibility as Oct. 1 nears.

James also added that she would like to add 7,000 airmen to the Air Force to “plug holes” in nuclear forces, cyber and maintenance.

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