by Patty Welsh
66th Air Base Group Public Affairs
5/19/2015 - LEXINGTON, Mass. -- Addressing
a standing-room-only audience of industry and government employees here
May 13, the Air Force's Service Acquisition Executive spoke about
acquisition priorities, challenges and initiatives.
Dr. William LaPlante,
assistant secretary of the Air Force for acquisition, emphasized his
top priorities: "big" projects, consisting of the F-35, the KC-46A and
the Long Range Strike Bomber; transparency and bending the cost curve;
owning the technical baseline; Better Buying Power 3.0; and strategic
The speech came during a visit to nearby Hanscom AFB, Mass., which also
included stops at MITRE and MIT's Lincoln Laboratory, where he attended
the Air Vehicle Survivability Workshop.
Speaking on acquisition and transparency, he mentioned it's often hard to let go of preconceived notions.
"The hardest thing is not to get new thoughts into people's minds, but to get old thoughts out," LaPlante said.
Two years into the job, he said people still think the Air Force takes
fighter pilots and makes them program managers. However, the average
acquisition career program manager has 19 years of experience and
program executive officers usually even more.
In addition, cost and schedule overruns are often exaggerated. He said
that, adjusting for inflation, overall program costs have declined for
the past three years. Schedules are still a challenge for development
programs, but that is often due to issues with software or systems
He mentioned Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James and Air Force Chief
of Staff Gen. Mark Welsh's bending the cost curve efforts to drive down
weapons system costs. He also recognized the Air Force's efforts working
with industry organizations such as the National Defense Industrial
Association and the Armed Forces Communications and Electronics
Association to look at small sets of projects and initiatives.
One effort is using other transactional authority, which allows
flexibility in the contracting process, reducing contract award time.
The Air Force will host Plugfest Plus June 8 at Langley AFB, Va., using
the Distributed Common Ground System as an open systems architecture.
Various information technology companies will work as a consortium to
provide specific problem-solving regarding the system via the Hanscom
milCloud system. The upcoming event allows interested companies to "plug
in" their systems to an open architecture and demonstrate their best
system applications. Afterward, using OTA, the goal will be to get the
best options on contract within a week or two, allowing companies an
opportunity to build prototypes.
"We're experimenting with these kinds of things because, as we set up
the open architectures, we want quick ways to get people to bring their
algorithm or application in and not wade through the laborious process,"
Throughout his presentation, the SAE continually highlighted the
necessity of open systems architecture and open mission systems.
"If there's one thing you take away today, it's open systems," he said. "We're doing it - program by program."
Other initiatives address acquisition challenges, intellectual property,
"out-of-the-box" experiments, meaningful discussions during source
selections and foreign military sale challenges.
LaPlante also addressed owning the technical baseline, recapturing what
the Air Force used to do in the 1990s. It's government program offices,
in conjunction with their teams including personnel from Federally
Funded Research and Development Centers and contractor support, being
smart buyers. The program offices should have the integrated master
schedule, know the design of the system and run performance models
independent of the system.
When talking about complex systems, multiple places should look at performance, he said.
Using the Joint STARS recapitalization as an example, LaPlante said the
program office should also understand how the system is working and
being used today; items such as availability and operator complaints
need to be understood as the program office works on the replacement.
Building to the future was something LaPlante focused on when addressing
strategic agility. He said the Air Force is looking to reinvigorate
developmental planning, and when that comes to acquisition, it means
"You'll have to plan for the fact that you will not know what our
adversaries or technology will do," he said. "And that the warfighter
will find a way to use [the system] in a way you never thought of, so
you need to build in open architectures and allow for pivot points."
The event was sponsored by the Lexington-Concord chapter of AFCEA.
During his time at Hanscom, LaPlante met with the Battle Management and
C3I and Networks PEOs and received numerous program manager updates.