HUNTSVILLE, Ala. — Bruce Jette is the new assistant secretary of the Army for Acquisition, Logistics and Technology where he is responsible for not only acquisition but also serves as the science adviser to the Army secretary, is the senior research and development official and is responsible for matters related to logistics.
He has only been on the job for two-and-a-half months, but his knowledge of defense acquisition runs deep.
Jette served in the U.S. Army for 28 years, retiring as a colonel after commanding several armor and cavalry companies and holding various staff assignments at the battalion and brigade level.
But his acquisition roots come from his experience founding the Army’s Rapid Equipping Force, serving as program manager for soldier systems, the predecessor of Program Executive Office Soldier. He also earned an Army product manager of the year award for Army airborne electronic warfare systems.
Following retirement from the Army, Jette founded Synovision Solutions, a company that provides management and technical consulting, engineering services and project management supporting military and government agencies and the commercial industry.
Jette takes on the role of acquisition chief at a time of major change in Army procurement. Aside from the major acquisition overhaul mandated by Congress, the Army is standing up a brand new, four-star command – Army Futures Command – that will help the service rapidly modernize its force by procuring new capability across six major modernization priorities.
The new acquisition chief will have to interface with the command as well as its cross-functional teams addressing each priority to bring capability to the force.
Defense News sat down with Jette at the Association of the U.S. Army’s Global Force Symposium in Huntsville, Alabama, March 26.
The new four-star Army Futures Command is tasked to modernize specific capabilities which includes ultimately acquiring such capabilities for the force. How is the acquisition community going to work with the AFC expected to stand up this summer?
When we talk specifically about the structure of the Futures command, the paint is not dry. But I can tell you a lot about the current structure of the acquisition piece of this. The acquisition community program executive officers and program managers will retain their current relationship [with the acquisition community.] They work for the acquisition executive and under the [Army] secretary. … At this point I would tell you that it doesn’t appear that we’re going to reorganize or restructure the PEO to align differently.
However, they will provide some form of matrix relationship back to the [Cross-Functional Teams.] So, for example PEO [Command Control Communications Tactical] will be very deeply involved within the Network CFT. And you know, PEO Ground Combats System is going to be with Next Generation Ground Combat Vehicle. But the people who are PMs or PEOs themselves will retain their current jobs, but participate on the CFTs in an advisory and decision-making capacity.
What we’re going to do to make sure that the CFT’s are more closely tied to the acquisition community is we’re going to ensure that each of the CFTs have at least one acquisition professional. And what I mean by that is a PM, who has already been a PM, instead of sending him or her to some job in the Pentagon chasing paperwork, they’ll be on the CFTs. CFTs themselves will report to the AFC commander.
You’ve said you’d like to see standards for rapid acquisition change from fully fielding a set of equipment to the Army to just reaching an initial operational capability in the time line of zero to five years. Is that something that the Army can redefine itself?
I believe it’s NDAA 2016, section 804. And it’s an excellent authority that Congress gave us. It has two paragraphs. The first paragraph is rapid prototyping and the second paragraph is rapid acquisition. And the rapid acquisition is in line with rapid procurement. So if, for example, we wanted to make sure that the Army all had water bottles – I could do that but I’d have to get everybody in the Army issued their water bottles within five years. That’s the way it’s written out.
My request in testimony has been rather than say within five years that I have to complete the entire Army’s fielding – because we don’t do that within 20 years with a lot of systems – that you give me IOC for a block upgrade. Let’s say we’re going to field a new tank; generally we don’t get a large system like that into the field for 20 years maybe. Just because they’re expensive and you kind of prorate the money. But as you go through that process, the first one doesn’t look like the last one. So rather than have that as a less than clearly delivered process, if I can use this rapid acquisition approach, I can do it in five years or less in upgrades. So you might have the Robotic Armored Vehicle, the RAV 1, RAV 2, RAV 3, RAV 4.
And, yes, it would require a modification to the NDAA.
In terms of other acquisition reforms, what do you think at this point is working well from the major acquisition reform that we just had? And what maybe needs a rethink?
I agree with [the other services’ acquisition chiefs] and their comments, which was, generally, it might be a good point to take a bit of a breath, work through what we’ve got in place, see how we can apply it more effectively. We have other transactions. I think in ’16 we had, you can double check this number, and it’s like $500 million dollars in [Other Transaction Authorities]. Last year was like $1.6 billion. So, we made a significant improvement in trying to get things using OTAs.
We’ve done a number of things where we’ve revised contract approaches. For example, rather than if you’ve got a project and you’re going to go from point A to point B in that project, you don’t necessarily have to put all the things that you’re doing within that on a single contract. That sounds odd, but a lot of times many of the things that we require to have delivered, they’re straightforward. Or there may be an underlying research layer that still has a lot of research in it and more risk. So, contract the two separately, that gives industry a greater opportunity to make a better profit, because if they deliver early, we’re looking at things like fixed-price incentives, which is a contract form where if they deliver early, they get full value of the contract and that cuts down their overhead … and they make a larger profit during that time.
If they go over, they’re probably going to lose a little on their profit, but they still owe us. So, we better manage the risk. And that’s where you want to reduce the amount of your work load that’s on the best-effort contract. But you want to be honest and fair about it. You don’t want to ask for a firm-fixed price on something, when you’re not sure of where you’re going.
From an acquisition standpoint the Network Integration Evaluation was a great way to ensure the utility and operational effectiveness of equipment the Army has purchased and is maturing. But those have been canceled. What is the plan now?
I believe that the intention of the AFC and the CFTs is that we’ll develop prototypes and we want to try and understand, we want to test it. We’ll have technical tests to make assessments as to whether or not the system is actually performing up to the different metrics that we want to, that will be part of trying to mature the technology from a tech perspective.
From an operational perspective, the concept at this point is that we will actually coordinate with [Army Forces Command] and then provide the systems to FORSCOM so that FORSCOM then integrates into one of their units and the unit gets trained on it, the unit gets to use it and the unit gets to give feedback on it. We will be able to be doing different tests, different configurations and do it within their training cycles, so that we’re also not spending a lot of money on an independent event and we can spend the money instead on training soldiers.
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.