WASHINGTON -- The Army is soliciting ideas on how it might make its contracting processes more agile, the service's acquisition chief Katrina McFarland said during a panel at the Association of the US Army's annual conference Monday.
The current contracting process in acquisition "causes problems" when it comes to being agile, she said. "We are trying to understand where we can create agile contracting methodology that allow us to address the emerging threat more rapidly."
She added, the contracts should "allow for insertion of replacement technology as we fly, if you would, and we have to think of ways together … to keep abreast real-time with upgrades, with anything from performance to reliability to sustainment or maintaining capability."
One way the Army is going to make contracting more agile is through the Rapid Capabilities Office, which will likely help the service bypass certain red tape to get funding quickly to development and field capability to the warfighter within one to five years. The Rapid Equipping Force and procurement mechanisms tied to urgent operational needs requests also help speed along the process.
But as Arun Seraphin, a Senate Armed Services Committee staff member on the same panel as McFarland, said: "If it’s worth our time to cut red tape and provide special attention to these rapid offices, why isn’t it worth our time to fix the system as well? So whatever flexibilities and special care we are giving to the other, I hope we draw some lessons learned, if it’s good enough for them, it’s good enough for everybody."
Army Secretary Eric Fanning said during a recent interview with Defense News that the hope is lessons learned from acquisition processes within the Rapid Capabilities Office could be transferred to major acquisition programs as well.
Andrew Hunter, of the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said the Defense Department generally has to get away from trying to plan too much in advance of a program because it ties its hands too much when it needs to make necessary changes. Technology is moving too rapidly to lock a program in at the beginning, he argued.
And the Army has had a track record of waiting until it can get the piece of equipment that meets 99.9 percent of its requirements before deciding to procure it, which often takes years beyond when the warfighter needs it, and more often than not ends in program cancellation before ever fielding.
The Army shouldn't wait to start a plan to procure a capability with a complete list of requirements because the pace of technology is just too fast and too much can change in a short period of time, several panelists noted.
Therefore the service needs to look for ways to inject requirements without having to go back to ground zero and start through the whole process, "because you know its going to evolve," Lt. Gen. Robert Ashley, the Army’s intelligence branch chief, said.
Jen Judson is the land warfare reporter for Defense News. She has covered defense in the Washington area for 10 years. She was previously a reporter at Politico and Inside Defense. She won the National Press Club's best analytical reporting award in 2014 and was named the Defense Media Awards' best young defense journalist in 2018.