Army, DOD officials outline defense modernization priorities

Visitors looking at new technologies at AUSA's exposition, Oct. 11, 2017. |U.S. Army photo by David Vergun

Getting effective, cutting-edge technologies into the hands of warfighters has often been a slow and laborious process, said Steffanie B. Easter, Acting Assistant Secretary of the Army for Acquisition, Logistics, and Technology.

But the Army is working to turn this around and make the process more effective, she said, while speaking during a press conference at the Association of the United States Army’s Annual Meeting and Exposition, Oct. 11, 2017.

For example, the Army has been doing incremental releases of requests for proposals to speed up the process, instead of waiting for the entire RFP to be formulated.

Industry likes doing it that way, she said, and the incremental approach gives them more time to collaborate.

Another effort, Easter said, is that within the acquisition community, the Army is trying to ensure that new employees have all their certifications and training in place on the first day they start work. Similarly, she said, those leading acquisition efforts should have well-rounded experiences, such as having worked in the private sector or possibly as warfighters as well.

Besides efforts to streamline acquisition, the Army is now trying to sort out which of the 800 current programs of record it really needs, because sustainment of those programs is expensive, and outdated programs are ineffective against near-peer adversaries.

“We want the latest and greatest capability early on,” she said.

Finally, Easter said, there needs to be a culture change within the acquisition community that emphasizes honesty with everyone about what works and what doesn’t.

“No one wants their [failed] program of record to be a case study at [Defense Acquisition University], but we need to share what goes right and what doesn’t,” she said.

Ellen M. Lord, under secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics, said she totally agrees with Easter’s assessment and solutions and added some of her own.

For starters, DOD needs to take more programs of record that aren’t joint in nature out of DOD hands and return responsibility for them back to the services, said Lord, who has 33 years of corporate experience in the automotive and aerospace industry.

Lord said the Army is similar to a very large corporation, and must work harder to mimic the practices of some of the most effective private companies.

For instance, the DOD might become more experienced at using predictive analytics to explore the effects of potential disaster scenarios on its operations, so that in the event of a man-made or natural disaster, it is better able to get back to business.

“DOD doesn’t yet have that capability,” she said.

The Department must also “look seven levels down” to see where shortages in the industrial base might occur if contracts are terminated, she said.

If production suddenly needs to be ramped up for an operation against a peer adversary, the DOD needs to have a reliable industrial base that can respond, she said. If industry writes off the DOD, then there will be no one to respond.

Lord said that a hot-button issue for her is software development.

“We’re taking way too long to get code out there — weeks and months. Programmers should be coding every day like they do in the commercial sector,” she said, adding that it’s “hurting us and causing our overmatch capability to be diminished. We need to be more agile when it comes to software coding.”

By David Vergun, Army News Service