UPDATED: This story has been updated to add that Tanya Skeen will become the next RCO director.
HUNTSVILLE, Ala. — The Army’s Rapid Capabilities Office is slated to become the next official Program Executive Office — or PEO — according to the service’s new acquisition chief Bruce Jette.
“What we are going to do is modify the Rapid Capabilities Office to make it essentially a program executive office,” Jette told Defense News in an exclusive March 26 interview at the Association of the U.S. Army’s Global Force Symposium.
The RCO will have two subordinate program managers: one that will handle rapid prototyping and one that will be responsible for rapid acquisition, Jette explained.
The RCO was launched in August 2016 to prioritize developing capability in the areas of electronic warfare, precision navigation and timing, and cyber, areas that were neglected in the counterinsurgency operations of the past 15 years. Now that the Army is anticipating having to go up against more near-peer adversaries in contested environments, it is turning its attention back to making sure its capability overmatches those of possible enemies.
With the advent of the Army Futures Command designed to rapidly tackle the Army’s six modernization priorities, questions were raised about how the RCO would fit into the new organization as it, too, is designed to rapidly meet top priorities, albeit slightly different.
Jette said the rapid prototyping program manager would have responsibility to go to the Army Futures Command’s cross-functional teams and assist in providing prototypes that meet CFTs’ requirements. There is a CFT assigned to each priority in the AFC.
The rapid prototyping PM could provide two types of rapid prototyping, Jette said. One type of prototype would help test operational concepts, while the other type would test various technologies of interest.
“The CFT, having connectivity to both of those, could come back and say, ’You know, I really understand what we need for certain aspects of that system and generate a very mature requirements document,” Jette said.
If the technology meets a readiness level that reaches a threshold for possible consideration for acquisition and the requirements are refined and robust enough, then that could potentially move to the rapid acquisition branch of the RCO PEO, according to Jette.
“And then, perhaps assuming all the funding and things are aligned, boom, we put out the first initial operational capability,” amount of systems, he said.
In the meantime, Jette said, the Army could go back to the prototype and mature it again, apply lessons learned from IOC fielding and begin developing “block 2” versions “right away.”
Jette noted there is a certain degree of maturation depending on whether its a prototype or a fully-fielded system. “There are aspects of some full system fieldings that you generally don’t bother with when you are doing rapid,” he said.
The Army would need to make a decision on whether the plan is to keep rapidly prototypinig a “skinnied down” system or if another approach is more appropriate that would lead to a full system fielding, according to Jette.
For example, he said, training and sustainment pieces “are a big piece of what that big ugly acquisition chart gets at. Fielding sequences is also another one, so at some point it might be possible you will have a hybrid, development gets done through rapid prototyping, rapid acquisition, but the sustainment and support elements [for a capability] get done through the PEOs.”
While Jette is not sure exactly when the RCO will become an official PEO, he said it will happen this year.
Meanwhile, the Army’s RCO will get a new director — Tanya Skeen — effective April 15. Skeen is currently deputy director of test and evaluation for the Air Force.
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.