Defense Acquisition at a Crossroads?

Top officials of the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) are starting to voice misgivings about the ongoing, across-the-board efforts to cut the nation’s federal spending.

Frank Kendall, Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics, recently offered candid insights into the challenges the DoD faces in remaining innovative.

Speaking at the ComDef Conference, Kendall discussed his concern over military officials cutting spending on future investments and using minimum cost estimates for programs in fiscal year 2016 draft budgets.

In addition to the current austere budget climate, the next round of sequestration is expected to occur in 2016.  The cutbacks have caused a flattening of the DoD’s research and development budget. In fact, several years ago, this budget was at $80 billion and today it is down to $60 billion.

Kendall discussed how emphasizing only some programs, at the cost of retiring or downgrading others, could cause an imbalance with the DoD’s Program Objective Memorandum.

“There’s been a big shift to investment in upgrades of [existing] programs as opposed to new products. That’s fine up to a point, but we may have gone too far,” said Kendall in this Breaking Defense article.

He also said that Russia and China are catching up by making advances in precision weapons and other stealth systems. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel recently echoed this sentiment and said that the Pentagon is revamping how it works with the defense industry.

This week, the DoD is expected to launch the third iteration of its Better Buying Power program (BBP 3.0), as well as a new long-range R&D planning program to “strategically focus” investments.

As highlighted in a recent Satcom Frontier story, BBP 3.0 will be about creating incentives to foster productivity and innovation.

According to this FCW article, Hagel said that BBP 3.0 differs from other acquisition guidance because it features, “more use of modular and open systems architectures; providing industry with draft requirements earlier; removing obstacles to procuring commercial items; and, improving our technology search and outreach in global markets.”

The DoD faces a series of challenges that has put it at a crossroads. From adversaries who are getting more innovative to budget austerity and increases in mission needs, the Pentagon must prioritize funding current operations while supporting long-term modernization.

“While we’re trying to introduce new ideas and new things, the fundamental reaction is going to be to protect what we have. I’m concerned about what’s happening there,” Kendall lamented.

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