Speeding Up Acquisition a Bunch

Lt. Gen. Arnold Bunch, the military deputy in the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Air Force for Acquisition, speaks at an AFA-sponsored, Air Force breakfast on Capitol Hill, Oct. 17, 2017. Staff photo by McKinnon Pearse.

The Air Force is trying to spread the culture of its Rapid Capabilities Office, which means more acceptance of risk at all levels, but it will take some time to prove to the acquisition corps that individuals won’t be punished for reasonably trying new things and not succeeding, said USAF’s top uniformed acquisition chief Lt. Gen. Arnold Bunch at an AFA-sponsored, Air Force breakfast Tuesday.

“The Air Staff is not where change will take place,” Bunch told an AFA/industry audience on Capitol Hill. The senior service leadership has to show rank-and-file acquisition managers “they won’t have their heads handed to them” if they try something reasonable and fail, Bunch said. Once it happens a few times and “we show people … we mean it,” they will feel “empowered” to do the innovative things necessary to really speed up acquisition, he asserted.

In digital services, Bunch said, he’s gotten feedback from contractors that “‘your engineers know exactly what to do, [but] your program managers won’t do it.’ That tells me I’ve got to go back and re-look at what’s my reward system, and how we are measuring these people, and how we set programs up.” He noted that Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson backs this approach and has offered to buy the celebratory cake “the first time we … have a constructive failure.”

Bunch gave status reports on a number of acquisition programs. He said the Long-Range Standoff weapon—the new nuclear cruise missile—while less costly for development than the new ICBM, is getting higher funding in the Technology Maturation and Risk Reduction phase because of the need to ensure the stealth missile is “reliable and available once it gets out to the field.” Historically, he said, similar programs don’t produce the reliability and availability “we need, so we took a different approach, put a lot more money into the [TMRR] phase.” He said this is called “Design for Reliability and Manufacturing.”

While operational needs are “critical,” he said, the weapon won’t be of any value unless it’s available for use, and so this is “a big focus area.” Bunch did not describe the historical programs that have fallen short in this regard, but the stealthy AGM-129 Advanced Cruise Missile was retired before its non-stealthy AGM-86 predecessor because of its maintenance cost and reliability issues.

Speeding up the Combat Rescue Helicopter Program

The Air Force is hoping to accelerate the Combat Rescue Helicopter program, Bunch said, and will “incentivize” prime contractor Lockheed Martin/Sikorsky with bonus payments “if they reach the milestone before the date that we anticipated.” If they do, “then … we immediately go into production and buy aircraft at a certain rate.”

Bunch said he’s looking for “lessons” from this approach—if it works—-that can spread to other programs. One challenge will be to keep Congress from taking back money meant for later years if the program speeds up.

Seeking Creative Financing for B-52 Re-Engining

The Air Force is already doing “risk reduction and maturation” work on a B-52 re-engining, Bunch said, and is looking at creative financing options, but has made no decisions to undertake, say, a lease. “We haven’t ruled out any funding option as we go through the cost benefit analyses and trades,” he said.

If USAF does pursue “alternative” financing, it would be a challenging sell on Capitol Hill because “you’re probably signing people up longer-term for something, and a lot of people are reticent to do that.” He said he’s had two briefings so far on the programmatic trades and financing options, and “we’ll … refine” that information “so the senior leadership can make a decision.”

T-X Award May Slip to Spring

Although “we were shooting for the end of the year” to award the T-X contract, Bunch said the contract will likely slip to the spring of 2018. This is not driven by the continuing resolution, but the regular tasks of properly evaluating the bids.

“I do not see” the delay pushing against later program milestones, he said, but “we’re very focused in getting it right,” because a protest would add significant delay. “It’s event-driven,” he added.

Presidential Aircraft Recap

An aerial refueling capability has been deleted from the Presidential Aircraft Recapitalization program, or Air Force One, because “after consideration,” that capability wasn’t deemed crucial, and the acquisition community has heard “loud and clear” the intent of leadership to control costs on the project. The determination was made by “the folks in requirements” and it was a “conscious decision,” Bunch said. USAF has already contracted to buy two previously-owned 747-8s for the mission.

Ramping Up Munitions Production

Bunch noted that the Air Force is making strides in ramping up production of the precision-guided munitions that are being so heavily used in Iraq, Syria, and Afghanistan.

The Small Diameter Bomb 1, he said, is accelerating from 5,000 to 8,000 a year, “almost triple” the originally contracted rate.

The JDAM satellite-guided bomb is ramping up to 45,000 a year and could go higher—possibly to 55,000—but Bunch said he wants to make sure that level can be sustained without problems among the many vendors and sources that supply the PGM elements. With JDAM, the bomb bodies come from the Army, the guidance tailkits from Boeing, and other parts from other sources, and Bunch asked members of the audience to speak up if they provide components of these weapons and run into “issues based on production.”

He said he’s running the weapon enterprise “holistically” so USAF doesn’t have too many incomplete pieces to make whole bombs. USAF is working with the Army on Hellfire missiles and the Navy on the Advanced Precision Kill Weapon System to increase production of those weapons as well.

The surge in PGM production pre-dates recent decisions to step up air attacks in Afghanistan, Bunch said.

Although the Air Force has responded to a congressional request to investigate the costs of re-starting elements of F-22 production, Bunch said the service has no plans to do so, and is not entertaining a plan to upgrade the 60 or so F-22 trainer aircraft to all-up combat capability.