PARIS – The U.S. Air Force has a long list of acquisition programs that will be starting shortly, and defense watchers are wondering how the service will be able to juggle a mass of competing requirements. Lt. Gen. Arnold Bunch, the Air Force’s top uniformed acquisition officer, spoke to Defense News at the Paris Air Show about the service’s ability to keep programs on track.

For fiscal 2018, the Air Force made a larger investment in R&D, but kept procurement stable. Will we see an uptick for procurement next year?

What we’re trying to do is get the technology as mature as possible so that when we do procurement, we know what we’ve got and we buy down that risk as early as possible. That’s something we did and we talked about on the B-21 [bomber] — invest a lot of money up front to make sure the technology was mature before we brought it in and started a program. We’re doing tech maturation and risk reduction on the Ground Based Strategic Deterrent, the Long Range Standoff Weapon, a lot of those platforms to buy down as much risk as possible.

Are you concerned about protests for any of those programs? You’ve talked about putting penalties on companies that bring forth an undue protest.

That would be something we’d have to get congressional language. We’ve talked about it, but it’s not something I control. The companies operate within the rule set, and it’s their right to protest. What we try to do is just make sure we’re as prepared as we can be as we go into source selection. We clearly communicate with the contractors on what our evaluation criteria are going to be so it shouldn’t be a pop quiz when we get into the proposal. They should know exactly what we’re going to evaluate. And then I trust our teams.

So do I worry about it? No. Do I think there may be some? Yes. But that’s the company’s right. Our sustainment rate, or our rate of protests that have been sustained is pretty low, a little over 3 percent last year. Less than that in the years before.

Regarding the Compass Call recapitalization, why should L3 play a systems integrator role, and why should that company choose the airframe?

Our decision to go with L3 as a systems integrator is based on their years of experience working on the Compass Call aircraft and being facilitized to modify the aircraft. That’s a key component. The other one is the material that they work on and the capabilities of that platform are highly classified, and not a thing we need to expand out to very many people. To be the most efficient and effective way to get that capability out in a very timely manner and that’s the reason we went down that path. That doesn’t mean that because they’re the systems integrator that we’re not going to be aware of what’s going on. We’ll get analysis of the information that was available, how they looked at all those things before an aircraft was selected, and we’ll be involved. But we believe this is the best strategy.