Mixing traditional acquisition practices with rapid and hybrid approaches is the best way the Army’s acquisition community can serve Soldiers at war, said Maj. Gen. Mark Brown.
Brown, deputy for Acquisition and Systems Management in the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Army for Acquisition, Logistics, and Technology, spoke to an audience of military and industry attendees Jan. 14 at the Association of the United States Army Aviation Symposium and Exhibition, National Harbor, Md.
“We have to remain flexible. We have to be responsive to the warfighter’s theater needs,” said Brown.
This includes the need to adjust to enemy techniques and tactics, he said. The current conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan have required the Army to adapt its acquisition practices, making them more efficient and more nimble in certain key instances in response to wartime demands. For instance, DOD and the Army moved to rapidly produce and deploy thousands of Mine Resistant Ambush Protected vehicles needed to counter the growing threat of Improvised Explosive Devices. This as an example of how the Army can accelerate, adjust and in some cases bypass traditional acquisition processes in order to meet urgent operational needs.
The Army has learned to perform a delicate balancing act and respond quickly when enemy tactics have outpaced technological solutions, Army officials said, adding this requires the Army to innovate and find ways of more rapidly delivering new solutions and capabilities – as in the case of MRAPs.
There are often key tradeoffs and consequences associated with each action, thus necessitating the need to strike the proper balance, Brown explained.
For instance in the case of MRAPs, multiple contractors were employed simultaneously in order to meet the urgent need to deploy large numbers of vehicles. The advantage to this approach, naturally, was the fielding of thousands of urgently needed new, MRAP vehicles within a short, two-year time span. The disadvantage was that using multiple vendors meant that multiple variants were created, a phenomenon which complicated the logistics, sustainment and supply chain for the vehicles.
With these nuances in mind, Brown cited examples of traditional program-of-record-oriented approaches, rapid acquisition techniques and hybrid approaches that were each essential in their respective instances.
“I want to do a side-by-side compare and contrast of the traditional acquisition system, the DOD 5000, and the rapid acquisition system that is being driven by eight to nine years of war at this point. They are very different,” Brown said.
“In the rapid acquisition system, you get an ONS [Operational Needs Statement] or JUONS [Joint Urgent Operational Needs Statement] – you go to the Army Requirements and Resources Board and get some OCO [Overseas Contingency Operations] dollars. You go out and buy something off the shelf and run it through a very rapid safety assessment and a capabilities and limitations report. Then you send it into the fight. We have had a substantial amount of success with this,” Brown said.
As an example of successful rapid-acquisition techniques, Brown cited the UH-72A Lakota Light Utility Helicopter, which went from vision and concept to First Unit Equipped in four years. At the same time, tradeoffs were made in order to accommodate the accelerated developmental time frame, Brown explained. Due to its speedy developmental cycle, the Lakota was not certified for combat; however, the arrival of the Lakota – now deployed in various key regions throughout the world — freed up more Black Hawks which were needed in Iraq and Afghanistan, he said.
Traditional approaches, which follow procurement practices delineated in DOD 5000 Defense Acquisition System guidelines, are much more deliberative, Brown said. They require a series of extensive checks and balances such as numerous certifications, specified plans and documents at various stages in the acquisition process.
For instance, a traditional, DOD 5000 program of record must have an approved requirement, Analysis of Alternatives guidance, initial capabilities documents and a capabilities development document. In addition, each of the milestones require specific certifications, such as the need to verify the existence of an approved technology development strategy and a requirement to fully fund research and procurement plans for the life of the entire program, among other things.
“The hurdle gets increasingly high as you go through Milestone A and Milestone B, as you go through this process. There is something called section 2366 certification [DOD 5000] — under Section 2366 A , you must certify certain things for Milestone A. You must have an approved technology-development strategy and RDT&E [Research, Development, Test and Evaluation] must be fully funded for the entire program. You must have an improved technology readiness assessment,” Brown said.
Milestone B requires an additional host of certifications — such as the need to have a fully funded production program throughout the entire life of a given program prior to entering Milestone C, Brown said.
“So what we really need is some kind of hybrid process. Shorter acquisitions, more mature acquisitions – buying less, more often,” Brown said.
Nevertheless, these traditional processes are extremely worthwhile and indispensable to the success of many programs, such as those which require a multi-year procurement strategy. Brown cited the UH-60 Black Hawk M helicopter as an example of the successful use of traditional acquisition approaches.
“There were some needs associated with this program [UH-60 M] after it was fielded. Those needs were met through the official way under the DOD 5000 traditional system; those needs were fly-by-wire, Common Aviation Architecture System [CASS cockpit], full-authority digital engine control, and a composite tail cone,” he said.
“If you are going to have a big program that is going to have a long-term, far-reaching impact where we are going to spend billions and billions like the Joint Strike Fighter, you might want to go the traditional route. But one size does not fit all,” Brown told the audience.
For instance, most Soldier equipment can succeed by going through shorter processes, Brown said. Improvements to Soldier body armor fall in to this category, as they have been rapidly acquired and deployed, Army officials indicated.
At the same time, hybrid-type approaches which blend the two together can be particularly useful when it comes to both developing a needed future technology and rapidly delivering capability to Soldiers at war, Brown explained.
For example, the Army’s Gray Eagle Unmanned Aircraft Systems program fits the model of a hybrid approach, Brown said; the Army has deployed two Quick Reaction Capabilities, or QRCs, of the aircraft to Iraq and Afghanistan while simultaneously pursuing a traditional Gray Eagle program-of-record.
“We had 18 months from the time it was designated as a Quick Reaction Capability. This entered as a rapid acquisition. It took us 18 months to get it into the fight. Somewhere in between QRCs one and two, it was designated as a program of record. Because of its urgency to the fight, putting eyes on the enemy, the Defense Department and the Army leadership were willing to defer some of those high hurdles typically associated with traditional acquisition practices.”
As in the case of the Gray Eagle, hybrid approaches can afford the Army the opportunity to both fast-track a needed technology and also preserve the process of checks, balances and certifications typically associated with traditional acquisition practices. However, there are circumstances wherein each method – traditional, rapid, hybrid – is needed to meet the specific demands of a particular situation, he said, adding this implicitly advances the need for a balanced approach which selectively calls upon and employs a range of various acquisition techniques.