Air Force District of Washington Industry Day marks new era for acquisition reform

Air Force District of Washington Industry Day on Feb. 21, 2018.  (U.S. Air Force photo/Jim Lotz)

Master Sgt. Theresa Terry, Secretary of the Air Force Support Division for contracting, chats with Paul Wells, Network Defense Corp, at the AFDW Industry Day in the Washington Hilton ballroom Feb. 21, 2018. The event was designed to cast a wider net for acquisition reform and enhance warfighter capabilities with expedience and affordability. (U.S. Air Force photo/Jim Lotz)

Air Force District of Washington Industry Day on Feb. 21, 2018.

Air Force District of Washington Commander Maj. Gen. James A. Jacobson delivers the mission briefing at the AFDW Industry Day in the Washington Hilton ballroom Feb. 21, 2018. The event was designed to network Air Force contracting officers with small business owners and cast a wider net for acquisition reform. (U.S. Air Force photo/Jim Lotz)

Air Force District of Washington Industry Day on Feb. 21, 2018.

Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Air Force for Contracting Maj. Gen. Casey Blake discusses trends in Air Force acquisition reform at the AFDW Industry Day in the Washington Hilton ballroom Feb. 21, 2018. The event was designed to cast a wider net for contracts and procurement and enhance warfighter capabilities with expedience and affordability. (U.S. Air Force photo/Jim Lotz)

JOINT BASE ANDREWS, Md. --

With a renewed focus on speed, relevance and multi-platform capabilities, the Air Force District of Washington contracting directorate hosted Industry Day Feb. 21, an acquisition networking event designed to spark federal business opportunities and enhance warfighter capabilities.  

In his mission brief, AFDW Commander Maj. Gen. James A. Jacobson outlined the increasing importance of industry as a component of the total force, and described the broad changes he’s personally observed since he began his Air Force career 27 years ago. 

“Our military was the vanguard in research and development in the 20th century,” Jacobson said. “Today the vanguard is private industry, without a doubt.”

Jacobson recalled an earlier period in which military forces, he said, possessed “remarkable competitive advantages across all domains.”  But today, he added, “we find our competitive advantages eroding in every domain, accelerated by exponential leaps in technology around the globe -- advances developed by both state and non-state entities.”

This, he said, creates a dangerous, complex, and challenging security environment for the nation, its allies and ultimately the U.S. military that must deter and defend within it.

“Our Air Force seeks to emerge from 25 years of constant combat around the globe and to then refocus our force, making it more lethal, more capable, and ready to defend in this new environment,” the general said.

As such, the Air Force approach centers on readiness improvements, end strength growth, and modernization, all in which industry will play a vital role, Jacobson explained.

But beyond warfighting, the general noted, the Air Force’s internal budgeting and policy processes must also accelerate and evolve as technology morphs quickly from both military and non-military entities.

“Our internal processes must be more cognizant of the technological changes that are occurring outside of our department and considerably more receptive and ready to adapt to those changes,” Jacobson said.

From self-driving cars to near-disposable satellites to advances in computing capacity and capability that underpins it all, the general stressed that the military is and will be consumers of researchers and development. “While military-centric ideas are essential for us, we must have an organizational culture attuned to the advances outside of it and willing to integrate them in order to make the force more lethal, faster, and more adaptive than our adversaries.”

Speakers also included Air Force Deputy Assistant Secretary for Contracting Maj. Gen. Casey Blake, and Theresa Clark, director of small business, who discussed end goals, outreach efforts, and fiscal year 2018 and 2019 requirements.

Blake echoed Jacobson’s sentiments regarding the Air Force’s increasing reliance on support contractors, who he said will be incentivized to bring speed, synchronized capability, and affordability to the table.

Rapid technology is changing the character of warfare, Blake explained, and those changes call for a lens on “thinking big, starting small and scaling fast.”

“For every 10,000 Airmen, that’s about 1.2 billion dollars into our budget [so] there are lots of trades our senior leaders are having to make when it comes to how we’re going to continue to move forward,” Blake said.

The general also said the Air Force averages about 30-35 percent contract capability and even more so for downrange support. “We’re working really hard on how we design that inter-operational fabric.”

Blake referenced the National Defense Strategy and said the Air Force’s objectives fall in line with many of the objectives therein. Short- and long-term check marks include keeping modernization programs on track within cost scheduled performance plans, leveraging innovation, developing the acquisition work force, and delegating authority to the lowest appropriate level.

In light of today’s greatest technology competition, Russia and China, as well as the two competing world regimes, Iran and North Korea, Blake said the current administration has no reference for slow or antiquated systems or processes.

“We can’t afford delays to programs,” Blake declared. “We’re going to have to look intrinsically at ourselves: are we going to be able to take more risks? Are we going to do things more simultaneously or sequentially?”

Today’s advancement in software tomorrow is dated, he emphasized.

Blake conveyed the Air Force’s goals for a more tailored acquisition process, while buying more capability and preserving potential existing capacity such as intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance platforms.

He presented in tangible terms the dilemma at hand: current programs and platforms take about six months to get a qualified proposal. In response, the fiscal year 2019 National Defense Authorization Act authorized rapid prototyping and fielding which allow for experimenting with innovative and affordable systems before development of lengthy requirements processes for detailed specifications.

Ultimately, incentivized cash flow to contractors should facilitate speed to market, speed of relevance and battle management capabilities that are holistically integrated, the general said. The plan aligns with Defense Department objectives to continuously deliver performance with affordability and speed while managing systems across an ever-changing warfare and technology landscape.

“Through consistent multi-year means we can prioritize readiness and industry knows what’s important,” he noted. “We need to figure out how we can continue to modernize our forces and not mortgage our investment dollars.”

Clark lauded Industry Day as unprecedented during her tenure since the event featured the future requirements forecast for fiscal years 2018 and 2019.

“This was a rare event in that it was not specific to one requirement so it was huge for AFDW and for businesses across the board,” Clark said.   

The director also noted that the Air Force and the Defense Department have specific measures in place to include veteran-, women- and minority-owned businesses. “We are glad to get a chance to meet those requirements and reach out to those under-utilized contractors.”

Over all, Clark described event attendees as “very hopeful” with the advantage of knowing the Air Force’s near-future requirements, which coupled with feedback from the military, gives contractors and small businesses greater leverage in enhancing U.S. forces’ capabilities.

AFDW Contracting Director Col. Sheri Bennington said she looks forward to fostering ongoing relations with industry to augment the command in supporting approximately 40,000 Air Force military and civilian members of more than 2,000 Air Force elements in hundreds of locations across 108 countries.

“AFDW Industry Day was but one example of our team leading the charge and setting the standard for acquisition reform both within and far beyond the national capital region,” Bennington said. “These efforts bolster the Air Force’s overall readiness and help us provide superior support to combatant commanders and Air Force elements worldwide.”

According to Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson, the Air Force currently manages 470 acquisition programs in varying stages of research, development and production valued at 158 billion dollars.

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