Today’s hearing continues the committee’s focus on improving the Pentagon’s acquisition system. In particular it is focused on current Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marine Corps efforts to acquire capabilities and equipment both more quickly and in a way that allows for faster upgrades in the future. In Pentagon jargon those two goals are often called “Rapid Prototyping” and “Open Systems Architecture.” Those are both worthy goals, but we do need to be careful that they are balanced with other important goals in acquisition, such as ensuring competition and avoiding wasting money by spending too much, too early, on something the DOD may not end up buying at all.
That being said, doing things more quickly is an important objective. We certainly don’t want to repeat past mistakes that led to decades-long development programs like the Ford Class Aircraft Carrier, F-22, and F-35. Those programs were ramped up too quickly before requirements were understood and technologies were ready. As a result we spent more than we should have to get them, and it took way too long.
It also makes sense to build systems that can be quickly upgraded in the future. Technology moves quickly and DOD needs to be able to keep up. This is one area where I think the services are already doing a pretty good job in some areas – such as with submarine and fighter aircraft software – but there’s always room for improvement.
However, to the military services’ credit – and due to intervention by Congress in some cases – there have been a lot of changes in the past 10 or so years to improve the situation. All the services have established “Rapid Acquisition” organizations to get equipment to the troops more quickly. There are a lot of success stories that shouldn’t be ignored as we move forward. I expect our witnesses today will remind us of some of those bright spots.
A final thing to mention is a note of caution about adding more and more legislation this year on top of the significant amount of acquisition reform legislation done in last year’s NDAA. I support most of the changes we made last year, but some of them were very significant reforms that the DOD is only now starting to absorb and implement. We often chastise the DOD for constantly changing things without a solid plan in place. We here in Congress should be careful to avoid doing the same thing in this important policy area.
I look forward to today’s hearing on this important issue.