Priorities of AF acquisition outlined at symposium

ORLANDO, Fla. — William A. LaPlante, the assistant secretary of the Air Force for Acquisition, outlined the Air Force’s top acquisition priorities during the Air Force Association’s annual Air Warfare Symposium and Technology Exposition on Feb. 13, in Orlando, Florida.

LaPlante pointed out five key areas of focus: 

• Get high-priority programs right and keep them on the right track.

• Improve relationships and transparency with stakeholders.

• Own the technical baseline for important programs.

• Build “Better Buying Power” to improve business and small business in order to achieve best program outcomes.

• Build long-term strategy, resiliency to peer competitors, experiment and innovate — in other words, develop strategic agility.

The high-priority programs included KC-46A Pegasus and F-35A Lightning II programs. They’re the daily operation of the Air Force, and LaPlante said they just need to keep on progressing to ensure they’re done right.

His second priority dealt with the complexity of the acquisition world. 

“We have really put effort into trying to make ourselves more transparent,” he said. “Acquisition is hard to understand, it’s filled with acronyms, it’s filled with history, (and) we don’t talk about it clearly.

One way of improving the lines of communication between the Air Force and industry is through the Bending the Cost Curve initiative, a 2014 Air Force initiative to address escalation in weapon system costs and development times. It’s designed to improve dialogue with industry partners, expand competition among traditional and nontraditional industry partners and improve internal Air Force acquisition processes. 

LaPlante insisted there needs to be a regular venue of discussion outside of the source selection and competition process. He said those discussions will bring ideas of innovation, cost cutting and efficiency. 

One way to boost the efficiency of the work being done is to hold program offices to higher standards. LaPlante also discussed the Better Buying Program 3.0, based on the principle that “continuous improvement is the best approach to improving the performance of the defense acquisition enterprise.”

He used cost capability analysis charts to demonstrate effective tradeoffs between cost and warfighting capabilities as an example of how the Air Force is improving the performance of defense acquisitions. 

“There will be a much better understanding and a way for us to know what we’re paying for and willing to pay for,” he said. 

LaPlante also discussed the long-term strategy of the Air Force and how talking about it now is a plus for the industry. 

“I think the Air Force has been really good in the last few years about not changing requirements on its programs,” he said. “We need to continue with the discipline, but then we have to establish them early enough to give industry a chance so they’re not at risk.”

At the same time, there needs to be strategic agility incorporated into those plans, he said.

“Strategic agility means we also have to deal with the unknown, and we have to assume that we’re going to operate these systems in ways we will not predict,” he said. “We’re going to have the adversary doing things we cannot predict.”