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Matching China Means Letting U.S. Industry Iterate, Develop Technologies

The best way for the U.S. to meet the pacing challenge posed by China is to let U.S. industry do what it does best: develop new technologies. The government’s role there, said the deputy under secretary of defense for acquisition and sustainment, is to create the best conditions possible to allow those technologies to scale. 

“To counter China’s whole-of-nation approach, what we need to do is what only the American system can do, which is let industry iterate and develop while we in the government create the conditions to rapidly scale those key technologies — that’s the secret sauce,” said Radha Iyengar Plumb during a discussion Wednesday with Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, D.C. 

Plumb laid out three things the Defense Department is doing to advance its ability to deliver capabilities more quickly to warfighters and at scale. First, Plumb said, the department must do more to make use of the acquisition tools and authorities it already has. 

“The Adaptive Acquisition Framework, which folks might be familiar with, was a good step,” she said. “And building on that at the individual program level, we’re employing everything from [middle tier of acquisition] and other transaction authorities to the software acquisition pathway to create a range of hybrid strategies that enable scale.” 

One approach the department is taking is with the Competitive Advantage Pathfinders initiative, or CAP, within acquisition and sustainment. 

The Competitive Advantage Pathfinders initiative demonstrates common challenges and solutions to barriers in capability fielding. By bringing together cross-department teams, each CAP identifies any disconnects among the three legs of delivering warfighter advantage: requirements, resourcing and program management. 

“We identify high-tech-ready capabilities that meet a warfighter[‘s] need, and then, we see where the sticking points are when we try to just rapidly push it to scale,” Plumb said. “We develop a solution for that problem and keep going and solve the next issue and the next issue and the next issue.” 

With CAP, Plumb said, the department can not only accelerate a specific technology, but it can also identify where improvements are needed to speed scale, more generally. 

Second, she said the department is working to figure out where it can reduce barriers to integration. 

“Inside of [acquisition and sustainment], we set up this acquisition integration interoperability team, and their job is to align service-specific systems acquisition to meet joint requirements,” Plumb said. 

The office runs an “integrated acquisition portfolio review,” she said, which takes a capability and a mission thread and looks at underlying service-specific programs, identifies gaps, seams and areas where investment for integration is needed, and focuses on identifying resources for that integration with a focus on year-of-execution funding. 

“The idea here is to establish faster, better processes to connect prototype contracts to production contracts to scale integration to ensure that our joint requirements are met,” she said. 

Finally, Plumb said, there must be an increased focus on the acquisition workforce. 

“None of this happens without the right people in the right places,” she said. “We’re looking at expanding recruitment through programs like our Defense Civilian Training Course, on building more modular innovation-focused training — that’s work going on at DAU — and how we can create the right kind of incentives to do that innovative work, encouraging the right kind of risk-taking.”

Source : Defense