Schmidt digs into network acquisition

HANSCOM AIR FORCE BASE, Mass., — During weekly staff meetings with his division chiefs, Brig. Gen. Michael Schmidt asks his people to do things as fast as possible without putting lives at risk.

The new Program Executive Officer for Command, Control, Communications, Intelligence and Networks here at Hanscom is part of a top-two leadership turnover. His deputy, Scott Owens, has been on the job since early April. Schmidt took over soon after, on April 13.

“It’s harder, in this portfolio, to visualize what we’re giving to the warfighter than some of the other three PEO’s I’ve had the privilege to lead,” said Schmidt. “But make no mistake, it doesn’t matter if you have the coolest B-21 or F-35 in the air, it won’t do any good for you without the awareness generated by networks we manage here.”

Schmidt wants his personnel to attain a mindset of respect for the speed of technological evolution, and plan acquisition strategies to account for this reality. He highlights the great support from the Secretary of the Air Force, the Air Force Chief of Staff, and the service’s senior acquisition executive, Dr. William Roper, in removing roadblocks and empowering acquisition and sustainment personnel to make things happen quickly. He also points to acquisition vehicles, like Other Transaction Authorities, which can give program offices the ability to prototype systems faster.

“We have great contracting officers here, but we’re going to get them the ability to be agreements officers, who can approve OTAs,” said Schmidt. “But it’s not just OTAs, it’s how you write your contracts. An Indefinite Delivery Indefinite Quantity contract takes a little longer to build and implement, but it gives you the ability to deliver without starting from scratch with each task order.”

Schmidt also uses “agile acquisitions” to describe a process where PEOs accept that they may not deliver the full capability all at once, but can deliver incrementally improved capability much faster and deliver on the promised date. By doing this, they are much better at reacting to changing threats and requirements. This helps them build much stronger relationships with their warfighting customers.

Owens, who had served more than five years in the Battle Management Directorate, which is another PEO at Hanscom, sees his job as organizing training and equipping the C3I&N acquisition workforce. His last job was chief of engineering for the Battle Management foreign military sales division. He credits Steven Wert, Hanscom’s director of Battle Management, with helping him attain the knowledge necessary to serve as deputy at C3I&N.

“People, not money, are the essence of what I’m doing here,” said Owens. “This job is hugely different because the two portfolios, with Battle Management focusing on weapons systems, and C3I&N focusing on communications, IT and networking, are constantly building on one another’s efforts. Every PEO overlaps with every other, but particularly at Hanscom, you see our people making a system-of-systems approach possible. That’s why this is so interesting right now.”