Fast Acquisitions: Not an Oxymoron at Hanscom

LEXINGTON, MASS. -- Personnel from Hanscom Air Force Base, Massachusetts, and Defense Innovation Unit Experimental told industry members gathered at a luncheon event here Feb. 15 that new defense acquisition mechanisms can get critical capabilities into the hands of Airmen faster.

Speaking at a Hanscom Representatives Association gathering, panel members Brittany Ridings, Hanscom Collaboration and Innovation Center program manager, and Dr. Bernadette Johnson, DIUx chief science officer, said increased cooperation between private-sector innovators and defense acquisitions experts will allow DoD to better meet warfighting needs.

“We must align the needs of our user, the warfighter, with what private sector innovators can provide, and as acquisition professionals do it faster,” said Dr. Tim Rudolph, Air Force Life Cycle Management Center chief technology officer, moderator of the panel. “These new ways of acquiring tools and technology aren’t widely used yet, but we hope industry takes note and works with us on how to meet requirements quickly and securely.”

Several acquisition techniques, like Other Transaction Authorities and plug-test prototype demonstrations, where Airmen get hands-on exposure to test equipment they need before purchasing, are available to industry through the Air Force Life Cycle Management Center at Hanscom. These techniques could lead to putting cutting-edge tools in the hands of deployed Airmen in a matter of weeks and months, rather than years.

OTAs and other expedited authorities are a Defense Department response to the reality of technology development outpacing traditional contracting methods. Cyber technology presents a specific challenge to Air Force acquisition personnel, due to the fast pace of development. Occasionally, what was considered “new” technology is replaced with something newer by the time the acquisition process is complete.

“We’re not going to build ships or buy planes with these types of acquisition techniques,” said Johnson. “But these are great ways for existing programs of record to acquire better tools, technology and hardware.”

Sometimes, defense projects have pop-up additional requirements within them. An aircraft may need a small software upgrade, or a radar may need a tool used for diagnostics. OTAs and plug-tests are options to bring the update to fruition with existing, modern technology, without reworking the original acquisition. 

“One of the biggest impediments for us dealing with the government, or the Defense Department, is the bidding process itself,” said Peter Beer, director of technology development at Riverside Research, a not-for-profit provider of technology and scientific capabilities. “We want to respond quicker to the warfighter, so anything allowing us to do that helps.”

Employees of more than 35 companies, ranging in size from local businesses to multi-national corporations, attended the panel discussion.