Good Luck With That

By lex, on April 18th, 2011

The Air Force is pushing to procure its next generation bomber using the same kind of rapid deployment capability it used for the MC-12 Project Liberty aircraft:

The effort will use “what we have determined will be a more streamlined management process going forward, where we are using the Rapid Capabilities Office (RCO) to help manage this project,” Air Force Secretary Michael Donley said earlier this month.

Donley said Defense Secretary Robert Gates has approved the decision.

The switch comes after several of the service’s biggest aircraft programs, like the B-2 bomber and F-22 Raptor, delivered its aircraft far later, in far lower quantities, and at far greater cost than planned.

The final straw was the tri-service F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, now projected to wind up five years late and 26 percent over budget, according to a recent Government Accountability Office (GAO) report.

Current and former officials agree the current procurement system is too slow and cumbersome.

“Yes, that is certainly part of it. That is the same reason that [the Secretary of Defense] set up the ISR Task Force and JIEDDO [Joint IED Defeat Organization], because the normal acquisition process simply cannot respond rapidly enough to changing demands,” one former senior official said.

There’s no question in your humble scribe’s opinion that the defense acquisition process is creaking under the weight of process and oversight, and that the time spent exercising “acquisition rigor” – I prefer the term “paralyzing risk aversion” – contributes to both cost increases and schedule delays without reducing much in the way of technical risk.

But RDCs are meant to quickly militarize known capabilities when they exist and to streamline the requirements definition, allocation and synthesis process for niche solutions. There’s a vast difference between throwing some ISR gear and antennas on an existing platform like the Super King Air and wheels up design of a “next generation” bomber.

I hope they can pull it off, but with $400 billion coming out of the budget in the next 12 years or so, I predict acquisition oversight – and the accompanying programmatic churn – will actually increase rather than become more streamlined.

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