Pentagon Debuts Yet Another Plan to Speed Up Weapons Buys

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Ellen M. Lord, undersecretary of defense for acquisition and sustainment
Ellen M. Lord, undersecretary of defense for acquisition and sustainment, speaks with reporters at the Pentagon, Oct. 7, 2020. (Jack Sanders/Defense Department)

The latest plan to overhaul the Defense Department's hidebound systems for procuring weapons, goods and services is underway -- with an emphasis on speed from design to fielding, as well as cutting maintenance costs, Pentagon officials said Wednesday.

The new plan, called the Adaptive Acquisition Framework, or AAF, is intended to bring about the "most transformational change to acquisition policy in years, perhaps decades," said Ellen Lord, the under secretary of defense for acquisition and sustainment.

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Existing procurement methods "rarely enabled speed" and resulted in a process that could take up to eight years from design to delivery, she said at a Pentagon briefing.

In adopting "best practices" from industry, the AAF is meant to bridge gaps between design and fielding to "deliver capability to our warfighters faster," Lord added.

She stressed the urgency of acquisition reform to complement the National Defense Strategy and maintain the military's edge in the transition from the counterterror wars of the post-9/11 years to the new era of great power competition with Russia and China.

Under AAF, contractors and DoD program managers will be given more flexibility along several pathways, to include programs for urgent operational needs, major capabilities, and defense business systems.

Lord said that a major emphasis will be on cutting long-term maintenance costs. Currently, about 80 cents of every defense dollar for a new ship, aircraft or other weapons system goes to sustainment, she explained.

The AAF is intended to make the acquisitions process "move at the speed of relevance," she said, although the DoD has a dismal track record in reforming how it buys and maintains weapons.

Defense secretaries going back to the Nixon administration have all adopted the "better business practices" mantra on acquisitions while dealing with Congresses that can be for or against change.

In 2010, then-Defense Secretary Robert Gates instituted the "Better Buying Power" initiative to improve efficiencies in the acquisition processes as defense budgets were squeezed.

Defense spending has rapidly expanded under the Trump administration to a proposed record budget in the range of $740 billion for fiscal 2021. But Lord said the DoD is still saddled with an acquisitions process that has become "an impediment rather than an enabler."

-- Richard Sisk can be reached at Richard.Sisk@Military.com.

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