The inability of the Pentagon to rapidly assimilate new technologies and cut bureaucratic red tape is increasingly being perceived as not merely a poor use of tax dollars, but as a strategic liability by both senior DoD officials and members of Congress (Freedburg, 2015). In a March address to the Center for Strategic and International Studies, Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC) Chairman John McCain compared the 18 month standard innovation cycle in the private sector to the Pentagon acquisition cycle, which can last for up to 18 years. McCain argued that the glacial pace of Pentagon acquisitions threatens to undermine the nation’s technological superiority, and the inefficient allocation of taxpayer dollars during sequestration further exacerbates the acquisition processes negative impact on national defense.
In an effort to address these concerns, Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics Frank Kendall ordered the implementation of the DoD’s new acquisition reform effort, “Better Buying Power (BBP) 3.0.” The BBP 3.0 memo, released Thursday, offers a series of initiatives to improve the efficiency of future acquisition programs, with the intent of cultivating the long-term technological superiority of the US military in the face of increasingly advanced systems fielded by both Russia and China. The BBP memo concentrates on 34 areas of focus, such as increasing the use of prototyping and experimentation, emphasizing technology insertion, modular system design and open system architectures, the ability to strengthen cybersecurity throughout a product’s lifecycle, increased access to small business research and development, etc. Many of the new measures are aimed at incentivizing nontraditional defense contractors, such as Silicon Valley technology companies, to engage with the Pentagon, and at increased collaboration with allied nations (Mehta, 2015).
Undersecretary Frank Kendall described the design of the long range strike bomber (LSRB) as an example of BBP 3.0 recommendations including planned technology insertion that would enable competitions for bomber upgrade and sustainment contracts
Overall, the document underscores the DoD’s renewed vigor to rapidly assimilate new technologies and manage excessive bureaucracy. BBP 3.0 will likely be accompanied by new legislation being drafted by House Armed Services Committee Chairman Mac Thornberry in consultation with SASC Chairman John McCain. Thornberry’s legislation will take an incremental realist approach to acquisition reform, which starts by mitigating the unintended consequences of past reform efforts such as the Weapons Systems Acquisition Reform Act of 2009 (Freedburg, 2015). Thornberry’s bill would also consolidate program requirements and reduce redundant reporting standards:
“Many reports and requirements that are currently handled as separate, time-consuming processes would be consolidated into a single strategy document. Other reports and requirements would simply go away. ‘Probably one of the biggest things,’ the staffer said, is downgrading many ‘certifications’ to mere ‘determinations’: That’s not just a change in terminology. It marks a major reduction in the amount of time and lawyers involved. Milestone A decisions to start developing technologies no longer require any certifications at all, only determinations. Milestone B decisions to start actual engineering and manufacturing development (EMD) would still require certifications, but not as many.” - Sydney J. Freedberg, Jr., 2015
DoD officials have been largely receptive of Thornberry’s proposals, including Undersecretary Kendall. In summary, the combination of BBP 3.0 and new acquisition reform legislation has the potential to mitigate the damage of prior acquisition reform efforts and improve the efficacy of new programs. BBP 3.0 will enable the DoD to make the required investments in its third offset strategy such as robotics, big data, miniaturization, autonomous systems, etc.