Air Force concludes fast-acquisition 'PlugFest' test

For some in industry, the Defense Department’s cumbersome acquisition process can be a turn-off. Aside from major acquisition reforms, which have become one of the cornerstones of House Armed Services Committee Chairman Mac Thornberry’s (R-Texas) 2016 Defense Authorization bill, approaching the process from a program-specific angle can prove much easier and efficient.

The Air Force recently set out to prove that point with a four-day “PlugFest” test run, an “interactive industry event where companies get to ‘plug-in’ to a given open system architecture and test their products for government representatives,” according to an Air Force release. The event allowed multiple vendors to use a common interface to display their capabilities.

“This new acquisition process will shrink the acquisition timeline for open architecture systems from multiple years to a few weeks,” said Camron Gorguinpour, director of transformational innovation for the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Air Force (Acquisitions). “The Department of Defense is focused on transitioning its systems to open architectures to the greatest extent possible, because doing so reduces costs, expands competition and enables faster adoption of cutting-edge technologies.”

The PlugFest events fall under the larger scope of the Bending the Cost Curve program announced by the Air Force in January. The program seeks to increase industry collaboration as well as competition among vendors. A key difference between the program and other acquisition reform efforts is that it is not as far reaching or broad. Rather, its efforts are targeted at specific programs.

“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,” Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James when announcing the program. “This, in turn, should mean that the Air Force can develop much more affordable weapon systems.”

The most recent PlugFest test dealt with the Distributed Common Ground Station trainer, the Air Force’s primary system for the collection, processing, exploitation, analysis and dissemination of intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance. Other programs Bending the Cost Curve has focused on include  the T-X jet trainer, the Long-Range Stand-Off Weapon, the Multi-Adaptive Podded System and the Space-Based Infrared System follow-on. At a PlugFest, vendors demonstrate their wares. That would be followed by a PlugFest Plaus, which adds a contracting element and, the Air Force says, would significantly reduce the acquisition cycle.

“[The] Air Force Research [Laboratory] is working to develop a more permanent acquisition vehicle to take this process beyond the demonstration into regular use,” Gorguinpur said. “The permanent vehicle will be used to formally evolve PlugFest Plus into a more robust Open Acquisition System process.”

About the Author

Mark Pomerleau is a former editorial fellow with GCN and Defense Systems.

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