Military News

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Managing acquisition: a PM's perspective

by Justin Oakes
66th Air Base Group Public Affairs

3/27/2015 - HANSCOM AIR FORCE BASE, Mass. -- There are hundreds of different career fields within the Air Force. All have their roles to play, cumulatively resulting in the aircraft that dominate the skies, satellites that connect us from space, cyber defenses that safeguard our networks and many other warfighting systems.

While we often see and hear about the end capability, it's the behind-the-scenes program manager who is responsible for these assets from cradle to grave.

Hanscom AFB is an acquisition base and home to more than 300 Battle Management and Command, Control, Communications, Intelligence and Networks program offices -- programs that total approximately $30 billion.

Currently, Hanscom also employs 488 program managers -- commonly referred to as PMs -- with varying backgrounds, expertise and experiences. Each is suited for a specific acquisition effort and mission.

"I'm new to defense acquisition, compared to some of the other PMs who have decades working with high-level initiatives," said Nick Grudziecki, a PM with three years of experience who currently works within the Next Generation Identification Friend or Foe program office. "As a PM, you're responsible for the program's cost, schedule and overall performance."

Grudziecki and the NGIFF team are working to upgrade a system into E-3 Airborne Warning and Control System aircraft that has the capability to differentiate between hostile and friendly aircraft.

"That's the great thing about working on a smaller program, you have more responsibility earlier in your career," Grudziecki said. "It helps you better understand the ins and outs of management."

With time comes experience and the opportunity to lead a larger effort. Take the Global Aircrew Strategic Network Terminal, or Global ASNT, program for example.

Global ASNT is directly tied to the Air Force's nuclear mission, since they are the ones responsible for developing and acquiring new, nuclear C3 terminals.

The result will be secure, survivable ground terminals that have the ability to receive emergency action messages via advanced extremely high frequency satellites. Those messages are then relayed to bomber, tanker and reconnaissance aircrews for action.

However, like any job, being a PM is not without its challenges. Money and requirements are the primary ones.

"Having the right amount of money at the right time is critical; you also have to ensure that requirements are being met -- that's the number one job of a PM, and it's not always easy," said Lt. Col. Kenneth Decker, Global ASNT program manager and 17-year defense acquisition veteran. "Information is another thing that can be a challenge. There is a constant flow of information in and out of the program office. How you effectively manage that flow is extremely important."

To successfully clear such obstacles, the Global ASNT PM emphasized that good communication and trust are needed.

"Being able to trust your team, both government and contractor, is huge. If there is a high level of trust and communication, then you'll be able to overcome the inevitable roadblocks that pop up during the acquisition life cycle," Decker said.

In addition to upgrading systems and acquiring new ones, some Hanscom PMs also focus on foreign military sales.

"The Air Force gains a huge benefit from foreign military sales," said Col. Niles Cocanour, chief of International AWACS programs, who has spent a combined 23 years serving as a PM and flight test engineer. "We approve sales based on strategic goals of the U.S., specifically to help meet regional security needs that are in our interest and in the interest of our partner nations.

"Additionally, these sales help maintain a strong military defense industrial base, and we often partner with nations to reduce our own development costs. We also benefit from improved integrations and interoperability with our coalition partners."

For example, the French are upgrading their current fleet of E-3 AWACS with a mission computing upgrade program that aligns their system with the new USAF Block 40/45 system. As a mutual benefit to the U.S., the French have also helped with the integration of the new Mode 5 identification friend or foe system, which in turn aided USAF development efforts.

Hanscom acquisition teams also support countries such as the United Kingdom, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Japan, Korea and Australia that fly AWACS and similar platforms.

They're responsible for not only producing a warfighting capability, but doing so in a timely manner and while reducing costs where possible. And for the PMs located at Hanscom AFB, it's no exception.

"Hanscom is the glue that holds the Air Force together -- we make all the capabilities more effective by connecting the warfighter in ways that give us significant tactical and operational advantages," said Col. Alfonso LaPuma, C3I and Networks deputy director. "It takes a special blend of tenacity, creativity and negotiation savvy to be a PM in today's Air Force."

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