Air Force's new acquisition plan aims to boost innovation, cut costs

The Air Force is planning to take a new tack on large-scale acquisitions, working with industry early on in the process in an effort to foster innovation and reduce costs.

The Bending the Cost Curve program, announced this week by Secretary of the Air Force Deborah Lee James, aims to increase both collaboration with industry and competition among vendors, and differs from other acquisition reform efforts in that it is targeted at specific programs rather than acquisition in general.

The initiative also includes a Cost Capability Analysis program that would work with vendors early in the process to identify areas where acceptable trade-offs in capability could be made in order to cut costs.

“We think that by gathering data from a range of sources, it should be possible to identify instances where small changes in capability have large impact on cost,” James said in a release. “This, in turn, should mean that the Air Force can develop much more affordable weapon systems.”

One example she offered: If the Air Force wants a jet that could fly 500 mph but finds that it could save a lot of money by lowering that to 450 mph, it might change its requirements.

That effort currently is focused on four programs: the T-X jet trainer, the Long-Range Stand-Off Weapon, the Multi-Adaptive Podded System and the Space-Based Infrared System follow-on. Those programs are in different stages of development, but the T-X program, for example, is two years away from a request for proposals, which allows time for the Air Force and industry to evaluate its requirements, James said.

Efforts to boost competition will manifest themselves PlugFest Plus events, which add a contracting component to the traditional PlugFests, where companies demonstrate their products. James said the Air Force will incorporate an Army acquisition model that could allow a vendor to come away with a contract within a few weeks of a PlugFest Plus.

The first such event is set for Jan. 20 at George Mason University, focusing on the Air Force Distributed Common Ground System for sharing sensor and other intelligence data.

To support its acquisition efforts, the Air Force is launching an IT Business Analytics Office, which James said was a top recommendation from corporate CIOs with regard to the Bending the Cost Curve program. “The Air Force needs to get an enterprise view of our information technology spending so that we can understand tradeoffs and make wise future investment decisions,” she said. Similar efforts in the private sector have netted savings of 25 percent of more, she said. “What we’re really after here is a data-driven approach to spending.”

About the Author

Kevin McCaney is a former editor of Defense Systems and GCN.

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