WASHINGTON — The U.S. Army is looking at how it can reduce by half what has turned into an unacceptably long timeline to deliver capabilities to soldiers in the field, according to the newly confirmed Army secretary.
“The process now to acquire something is maybe 10 to 15 years. It used to be five to seven. So our aim would be to get it back to where it used to be as a starting point,” Mark Esper said following a Dec. 7 Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on acquisition reform.
Specifically, Esper said during his testimony that the Army plans to reduce the time it takes to develop requirements for a typical acquisition program from five years to 12 months.
The strategy for reducing the requirements development process so dramatically is to prototype capability early, test and then learn, he said. “That really sharpens your requirements process so you know exactly what is in the realm of the possible and how much it may cost, etc.”
The Army also plans to use soldiers more in testing prototypes to garner more productive feedback during a time when it’s easy to change requirements or design.
Once requirements are ironed out, Esper added, “you can go quickly through the process and get into production, so that is where we see we can really cut the timelines off.”
He noted there are already examples cropping up in the Army’s modernization efforts that show prototyping actually helps rapidly define requirements.
For instance, the Army’s Joint Multi-Role demonstrator program — designed to help guide requirements for a Future Vertical Lift aircraft expected to come online in the 2030s — will see two industry-built prototypes fly next year.
“If we can give industry some reassurance that there will be a contract on the other end, that there are dollars committed behind it, then I think you will see a lot more industry putting their dollars into the game and getting us there quickly,” Esper said. “What we are trying to do is improve collaboration with industry. That is how we see it moving forward.”
One way the Army is instilling confidence in industry that there is money to be spent on acquisition programs is defining its six modernization priorities: Long-Range Precision Fires; next-generation combat vehicle; Future Vertical Lift; the network; air and missile defense; and soldier lethality.
The priorities provide a clear picture to industry on where Army investments should be made.
The Army’s new Futures Command — which will stand up in the summer of 2018 to address those top six modernization priorities — is the mechanism by which the service hopes to see acquisition reform take shape.
Within the Futures Command, the Army is standing up eight cross-functional teams designed to tackle the top modernization priorities.
The Army has also reinvigorated its Army Requirements Oversight Council by placing the Army chief of staff in the center of the decision-making process.
The service is also in the process of carrying out eight directives that “improve capability and material development process by refining how we generate requirements, improving how we educate the acquisition enterprise, simplifying our contracting and sustainment processes and evaluating our progress through metrics to enable our ability to deliver capabilities to soldiers faster and more effciently,” Esper said in prepared testimony.
The directives are designed to implement acquisition reform requirements laid out in the fiscal 2016 and 2017 National Defense Authorization acts.
The Army is also aligning 80 percent of its science and technology funding going forward to address the top six priorities, ensuring funding is there to move forward on rapid prototyping and frequent testing.
Esper said the reviews the Army conducted to decide what science and technology efforts should be divested are complete and have enabled the service to shift $1.1 billion in funding toward priorities.
Jen Judson is an award-winning journalist covering land warfare for Defense News. She has also worked for Politico and Inside Defense. She holds a Master of Science degree in journalism from Boston University and a Bachelor of Arts degree from Kenyon College.