As the Air Force grapples with its long-assailed requirements and acquisition process, the service should consider returning to a more streamlined approach that would better insulate programs from cost overruns and long development cycles, two Air Force acquisition officers told a Defense Acquisition University seminar Wednesday at Ft. Belvoir, Va. They dubbed this approach “FIST,” which stands for fast, inexpensive, simple, and tiny. FIST has a precedent in some of the service’s most iconic programs such as the P-51 Mustang of World War II fame as well as the C-130 transport, F-16 fighter, and MQ-1 Predator unmanned aerial vehicle, said Maj. Dan Ward, chief of process improvement and reengineering in USAF’s acquisition office. Constraining the scope, cost, and duration of a weapon system’s developmental phase is the most important factor in establishing a durable acquisition program, said Ward. For example, only five years after the C-130 requirement was issued, the airlifter was in service, Ward noted. In 2006, the C-130 became only the fourth aircraft in history to achieve 50 years of continuous use by its original customer, he noted. The Predator’s transformation from a reconnaissance drone into an attack aircraft was completed in less than three months with a budget of less than $3 million, Ward said. Maj. Gabe Mounce, Ward’s co-briefer and an Air Force Materiel Command chief engineer, said the FIST process relies on small groups, relying on teamwork instead of paperwork to quickly deliver innovations to the fight. (For more on this topic, read The FIST Handbook.) (For the history of Predator weaponization, read How the Predator Grew Teeth in the July issue of Air Force Magazine.)
Reports of production troubles on the SpaceX rocket that could contend for military cargo deliveries happened to coincide with a different company’s concept receiving an early nod—one that might not require a rocket at all.