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New Pentagon Plan Emphasizes Buying Adaptive Weapons

The Defense Department's top weapons buyer said future systems must take advantage of rapidly evolving commercial technology.

Designing modular systems with more open architectures will not only help control costs and speed development, it will also help the U.S. military maintains a technological superiority over potential adversaries, according to Frank Kendall, undersecretary of defense for acquisition, technology and logistics.

"Technological superiority is not assured," he said, echoing a warning he has made in the past. "It is not something that we should take for granted."

Kendall and Deputy Defense Secretary Bob Work held a press conference Thursday at the Pentagon to unveil the Pentagon's new buying strategy, dubbed Better Buying Power 3.0, which seeks to improve how the Defense Department acquires weapons.

The 35-page document calls for removing "barriers to commercial technology utilization" in acquisition programs, among other recommendations.

"DoD’s military products are developed and fielded on time scales that are much longer than some commercial development timelines, particularly those associated with electronics, information technology, and related technologies," it states. "These commercial technologies have a technology refresh cycle that is a small fraction of a major weapon system’s development or recapitalization cycles."

For example, the Pentagon spent more than a decade and billions of dollars trying to develop a next-generation family of digital radios, known as the Joint Tactical Radio System, even as smart phones, tablets and other superior commercial technology proliferated at a far faster rate among consumers, Kendall said.

"The Department can do a much more effective job of accessing and employing commercial technologies," the document states. "Our potential adversaries are already doing so."

The memorandum also calls for emphasizing during the planning process the idea of inserting new technology into the program, and using modular open system architectures to stimulate innovation. For instance, the military relies on a limited number of contractors, including L-3 Communications Holdings Inc., to supply it with common data links, or secure communications systems that transmit imagery and other intelligence.

"We've had a very hard time having true competition for common data links," Kendall said, in part because acquisition officials don't have a full understanding of how to control the technology's hardware and software interface.

The document also recommends formulating better estimates of what a weapon systems should cost, increasing the number of incentive-type contracts awarded to defense contractors, and boosting collaboration among the intelligence and acquisition communities when it comes to formulating requirements for a weapon system.

Kendall said his office is working with program managers to incorporate the guidelines into the biggest weapons systems currently under development, including the multi-service F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, the Air Force's next-generation bomber and the Navy's Ford-class aircraft carrier.

"We will have opportunities to compete technologies that will go into the bomber that we would not have had before," he said.

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