Two Defense Department groups are laboring to rush equipment and systems to overseas-deployed U.S. warfighters.
Thomas P. Dee, director of the Joint Rapid Acquisition Cell, and Douglas Cavileer, operations director for the Combating Terrorism Technical Support Office, described those efforts yesterday to hundreds of people attending the National Defense Industrial Association’s Joint Missions Conference here.
Dee, whose cell reports to the office of the undersecretary of defense for acquisition, technology and logistics, acknowledged the usual DOD process involved in major purchases isn’t always speedy.
The defense acquisition system “actually works okay if you’re trying to do big things,” he said. “We’ve got the best defense systems in the world, by far … but [that] comes at a cost in terms of deliberations and [the] time that it takes to get things done.”
In contrast, Dee said, the JRAC aims to field equipment for specific combat requirements that represent “valid, urgent needs” in current conflicts.
JRAC doesn’t handle major defense program or what Dee calls “big-A” acquisition.
“We don’t worry that much about the future of [JRAC-managed equipment],” he said. “These are expenses, not investments.”
The appropriate combatant commander — for example, U.S. Central Command’s Marine Corps Gen. James N. Mattis for requests supporting Iraq or Afghanistan operations — must validate requests to JRAC, Dee said.
“Our job is not to question his requirement, but to figure out how to get it for him,” Dee said.
“What do we need to do to get a good enough capability out there right now? That’s what our goal is,” he added.
Requestors have to specify what they are trying to field, how it will be used and who will use it, as well as whether it can be moved where it’s needed and if training and maintenance are in place to ensure the equipment can be used and is sustainable.
Depending on the equipment’s cost and whether the unit requesting it has funds available, Dee said, JRAC can request budget-reprogramming authority from Congress.
“In the last two years or so, for urgent needs, we’ve gone through about $5 billion like this,” he said. “But that adds time … if you have the money in the bank, you can spend it now. If you have to go to the Hill, it normally takes two or three months to get permission.”
Dee cautioned another holdup in urgently needed equipment delivery can occur in the contracting process. Warfighters and accountants don’t necessarily see things the same way, he said, so operators should take care to work through the JRAC process with their contracting officers.
While Dee said the JRAC process relies on “mature technology” that is essentially available now, Cavileer’s group aims to achieve “rapid prototyping and rapid transition” of equipment for specific counterterrorism objectives.
The Combating Terrorism Technical Support Office, or CTTSO, works as authorized by the assistant secretary of defense for special operations and low intensity conflict, Cavileer said.
“We have an interagency community mission for combating terrorism,” he said.
Working closely with more than 100 federal agencies, state and local governments, law enforcement organizations and national first responders as well as a number of international partners, CTTSO works to collect and combine participating members’ technical expertise, operational objectives and interagency funding, he said.
“We try to get the right mix at the table … sharing resources and trying to avoid duplication of effort,” he added.
Any member of the group, Cavileer said, can bring requirements forward. The group then votes on and prioritizes work to meet those needs.
The CTTSO publishes requirements in two Broad Agency Announcements per year and invites businesses of all sizes and types, educational institutions, government agencies and nontraditional submitters to review the BAA packages and propose solutions to the requirements, Cavileer said.
“Our goal is always to try to get things done in less than two years,” he said. “We’ve done projects as fast as nine months. The goal is to get a prototype out for combat evaluation … and then we commercialize.”
The group typically considers commercialization successful if first responders or military members adopt it, he said.
Cavileer said CTTSO-managed projects completed or near completion include software that models blast effects in urban areas, a force protection package for austere locations, technology to identify suicide bombers at range, an enhanced mortar targeting system, and automated foreign-language search and translation tools.
One solution the group found useful for coalition operations was already-existing police technology that allows different brands and models of radios to communicate, he noted.
“We need to come up with products we can use in a coalition environment, where we may have NATO allies, U.S. military and police organizations,” Cavileer said. “It may not be the most effective tool in your arsenal, but one that you can share and use immediately.”