Navy leaders want to be able to get new gear and technology to the fleet within two years. And they're hoping to build the flexibility to do just that kind of rapid acquisition into next year's defense budget.
Speaking at a Navy League breakfast near Washington, D.C., Navy official Allison Stiller said the service is hard at work on its budget submission for fiscal 2018 and hopes to submit it to Congress in early May, once the topline figure has been established by the White House.
Stiller, who is performing the duties of assistant secretary of the Navy for research, development and acquisition while former Navy acquisition chief Sean Stackley serves as acting secretary of the Navy, said one priority for the service is setting aside an unlabeled pot of money for rapid research, development and prototyping.
The Navy has a similar line item in its budget request submitted last year, Stiller said. While it's difficult to get funds not earmarked for a specific program approved by Congress, she said, "We've got to work through that and explain exactly what we're doing when we make that decision, so that money is traceable. But I think that is entirely doable. In order for the [rapid prototyping, experimentation and demonstration] stuff to be successful, we are going to need to access funds in a rapid manner."
Last June, both the House and Senate implemented significant cuts to the Navy's RPED fund in their separate versions of the fiscal 2017 defense appropriations bill, over the objections of the White House. The House took $42 million out of the $57 million RPED request, while the Senate almost obliterated the fund, reducing it by $55 million and leaving less than $2 million to spend.
The House and Senate have yet to reconcile and pass their spending bills, and lawmakers have said they expect conference and passage to happen before April.
Stiller said the Navy's goal for rapid prototyping and accelerated acquisition is to develop specific systems for each major program, from aircraft to ships. This is a departure from the approach taken by the Air Force and Army, which have established rapid capabilities offices that deal with the service as a whole.
"What we will do is to look at the program, the technology, how much risk there is in the program, and figure out when we can enter the acquisition process," Stiller said. "We're going to tailor acquisition, we're going to tailor the people who oversee it, and for each program it will be a little bit different."
The Navy has already identified the first technologies it wants to send through this fast-tracked process, she said, but leaders are not yet ready to discuss them publicly.
"We will have to take calculated risks," Stiller said. "Some things may work; some may not. We can't be controlled by fear of a bad headline or critical audit. We will move ahead with the speed and innovation the warfighter demands."