Acquisition Is Chief Pentagon Challenge

Jan 27, 2009
John M. Doyle john_doyle@aviationweek.com
Bettina H. Chavanne chavanne@aviationweek.com

U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates says acquisition is "chief among the challenges" facing the Defense Department in the near future.

In his first congressional testimony since President Barack Obama asked him to stay on as the Pentagon's head, Gates told the Senate Armed Services Committee this morning that there is "no silver bullet" to reform the "long-standing systemic problems" facing DOD procurement policies. Gates also said the fiscal 2010 defense budget request "must make hard choices" about what to spend money on.

The top Senate defense policy authorizer agreed. SASC Chairman Carl Levin (D-Mich.) opened the session by saying, "Acquisition reform will be a top priority for this Committee, this Congress."

Gates said the situation facing DOD today is one "where a small set of expensive weapons programs has had repeated--and unacceptable--problems with requirements, schedule, cost and performance." Five programs account for more than half of total cost growth, and no service is without blame, Gates said, ticking off a list of problem programs: Air Force aerial refueling tanker, new combat-search-and-rescue helicopters (CSAR-X), VH-71 Presidential replacement helicopter, the V-22 Osprey tilt-rotorcraft, the Army's Future Combat Systems (FCS), Armed Reconnaissance Helicopter, the Navy's Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) and the Joint Strike Fighter.

There is no "silver bullet" that will solve defense acquisition problems, the defense secretary said. But he offered an improvement plan, including:

* Making "hard choices" in the fiscal 2010 budget, avoiding across-the-board adjustments that would "inefficiently extend all programs."

* Combine budget stability and order rates to take advantage of economies of scale to lower costs.

* Pursue greater quantities of systems that represent a "75 percent solution" instead of smaller quantities of what he called "exquisite" systems.

* Despite increasing joint military operations, budget and procurement has remained service-centric. The goal will be to invest more in the future-oriented program of one service and less in that of another service, "particularly when both programs were conceived with the same threat in mind."

* Freeze requirements on programs at contract award and write contracts that provide incentive for "proper behavior."

* Seek increased competition and the use of prototypes and ensure technology maturity so programs are ready for the next phases of development.

Gates also said the Pentagon needs to beef up its acquisition personnel, noting a shortage of trained personnel in acquisition ranges from 13 percent in the Army to 43 percent in the Air Force.

In his own opening remarks, Chairman Levin listed several programs of concern: the F-22 stealth fighter, C-17 global airlifters, CSAR-X, the USAF tanker, LCS, FCS and missile defense. The SASC leader said the programs demand "tough choices."

Levin also called acquisition reform a priority and noted an amended Defense budget request for Fiscal 2010 will be made by the Obama administration in mid April.

Sen. John McCain (Ariz.), the senior SASC Republican and former presidential candidate, said he shared Levin's concerns about the F-22 and the C-17, noting that decisions on whether to continue their production lines must be made soon. But McCain added that the war in Afghanistan "must be at the top of any priority list."

Photo: U.S. Defense Dept.

AVIATION WEEK Copyright 2009, The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

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