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Pentagon Eyes Prototyping Strategy as Budgets Tighten

Jan. 17, 2012 - 04:32PM   |  
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The Pentagon may conduct more prototyping of high-tech capabilities to help preserve the industrial base at a time when weapon and equipment purchases are projected to decline.

Performing development in this way could reduce the cost of these types of systems as the U.S. Defense Department prepares to trim $487 billion in planned spending over the next decade.

“I argue that the prototyping route is in industry’s best interest because it’s pretty clear the budget probably will not sustain buying the same numbers of systems and types of systems we had,” Al Schaffer, U.S. principal deputy undersecretary of defense for research and engineering, said during the Precision Strike Association conference Jan. 17 in Arlington, Va.

To that end, DoD is conducting a review of its advanced component and development prototyping programs.

“It’s really just figuring out how to fit that into the portfolio with what you already have,” Schaffer said. “I contend and others contend ... that as the budget comes down, because we’re not building as many big systems, we’re going to have to do more prototyping because that’s how you keep all the stuff moving forward.”

The Pentagon’s new comprehensive war-fighting strategy released on Jan. 5 emphasized the DoD’s desire to protect the industrial base, but also described a push for more flexibility from manufacturers as the military is adjusted for future missions.

Schaffer likened this new era of prototyping to the X-plane experiments of the 1950s, in which aircraft were developed not for operations, but to better understand a specific technology.

“That’s kind of how we’re thinking about going back to in the research and engineering community,” he said. “How do we expand our use of prototypes so you understand how a system will work, you understand how much it will cost and you start to do spiraling with knowledge.”

Increased prototyping also could preserve industry design teams and engineers.

One area where prototyping could prove useful is electronic warfare and electronic protection, Schaffer said.

At the same time, DoD is pushing the services to develop requirements that can allow systems to benefit all services, according to Maj. Gen. Craig Franklin, vice director of the Joint Staff.

“We can no longer afford to stovepipe expensive, exquisite munitions and platforms among the services,” Franklin said during a speech at the same industry conference. “We are working very hard on the Joint Staff to ensure the systems required by one service are actually compatible with and can talk to the systems of another service.”

In the past, the individual services developed munitions for specific missions.

“[I]n the future we’ll be looking for munitions that can swim anywhere in the pool, across multiple lanes, platforms and services,” he said.

“We will probably be more willing than in the past to trade off exquisite capabilities to ensure interoperability, reliability and reduced cost,” Franklin added.

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