WASHINGTON — After months of expectation, Pentagon officials ordered the implementation of Better Buying Power 3.0 Thursday afternoon.
Pentagon acquisition head Frank Kendall released the implementation instructions for the acquisition reform effort, which has the overarching theme of "achieving dominant capabilities through technical excellence and innovation."
In real terms, that means BBP 3.0 is focused on maintaining the Pentagon's technological superiority over near-peer competitors such as China. As the introduction to the guidance states, "potential adversaries are challenging the US lead in conventional military capability in ways not seen since the Cold War. Our technological superiority is based on the effectiveness of our research and development efforts."
In a December commentary for Defense News, Kendall laid out his vision for how procurement needs to change in the face of advancing threats.
"BBP 3.0 will focus on the ways we pursue innovation and acquire technology," Kendall wrote. "All of our investments in research and development will be reviewed with the goal of improving the output of those investments. We will look for ways to reduce cycle time for product development. We will examine the barriers to greater use of commercial and international sources of technology."
There are 34 different areas of focus covered under the initiative, each of which comes with general guidance and then specific action sets that will occur to address the challenge. Some are continuations of the previous BBP cycles, while others are new starts aimed at driving to the technological side.
One big focus area that has been emphasized by Pentagon officials is the desire to bring non-traditional industry players into the defense world. That includes not just commercial firms, but international allies.
"We have global allies, friends, and trading partners who share our values and can assist us in pursuing innovation and technological superiority," the guidance notes. "Increased investments in cooperative research, co-development, and co-production may also provide better products for our warfighters at reduced cost."
Among other initiatives to address this issue, acquisition officers will set up a pilot program to "identify opportunities for foreign technology solutions to solve sustainment and obsolescence management needs." That pilot will be up and running by September, of this year, with the conclusions incorporated back into the education of future acquisition officers.
While not as flashy as new studies, the education part of BBP 3.0 may prove to be its longest lasting legacy. There are a number of direct actions that conclude with taking the findings and driving them into the curriculum at Defense Acquisition University, where the next generation of acquisition officers is trained.
Matthew Leatherman, an adviser to the Stimson Center, called the the Better Buying Power series of reforms more "realistic" than other attempts at changing the acquisition system, in part because of how it is targeting the management of procurement.
"One of the things that strikes me about the BBP sequence is, it looks like it is focused on managing the acquisition challenge, not on fixing it or resolving it," he said. "I think that's pretty powerful. A system this big isn't something that you get an overnight fix for. It's something that you need to incrementally improve, and the expectation should be an incremental improvement."
The Better Buying Power initiative "put an emphasis on the how, and there had been a long period where the emphasis was on the what," Leatherman added. "We need this, we need that. BBP is about how you do something clearly impacts the cost that you pay."
This story will be updated following a 3:00 PM EST briefing with Kendall and Deputy Secretary of Defense Bob Work.
Aaron Mehta was deputy editor and senior Pentagon correspondent for Defense News, covering policy, strategy and acquisition at the highest levels of the Defense Department and its international partners.