HANSCOM AIR FORCE BASE, Mass. – Hanscom is developing a reputation for innovation and delivering capability quickly, Steven Wert told the Hanscom Representatives Association at a luncheon Oct. 24 in Lexington, Massachusetts.
Wert delivered the address during his first local public appearance as Program Executive Officer Digital following the recent Air Force switch from PEO Battle Management to PEO Digital, a move that represents far more than a name change. The HRA forum allowed him to speak to defense contractors, academia and government about how to best work with the Air Force in its software acquisition efforts. The HRA event sold out, with approximately 60 attendees at Waxy O’Connor’s restaurant, near base.
“Agile acquisition, when applied to our weapons systems, is the polar opposite of [Department of Defense Instruction 5000],” said Wert, referring to the regulation that prescribes how most weapons systems have been acquired for several decades. “I’ve been involved in acquisition for 36 years and I’ve seen LeanSix Sigma, continuous process improvement and mandated acquisition reforms. None of them fundamentally changed the way we do business, but this absolutely does. It’s changing every single acquisition process and putting systems in the hands of Airmen in a lot less time.”
Agile development operations came from the technology industry, where software engineers organically delivered simple applications and systems quickly, then improved them once customers adopted the fastest-fielded solution. Wert indicated this mindset is useful in more than just software acquisition, citing successful adoptions of agile methodologies in procurement of physical systems, like those designed to counter unmanned aerial systems, which are urgent operational needs.
“We worked on testing several systems that would counter UAS, but they weren’t fully mature and integrated,” said Wert. “Then we took a step back and realized if we just had pretty good detection, and command and control components, we should field them. So, we’re fielding what works now and we’ll roll in better ways to defeat UAS as solutions mature. Before, we might have waited until we had a 100 percent solution fully integrated and tested, which would take much longer.”
Wert fielded questions from attendees following his address. He explained that, though his position title changed and he has gained new responsibilities, all of Battle Management’s previous work, employees and mission remained at Hanscom.
One attendee, Matthew McSwain, who represents University of Massachusetts Lowell’s research institute, focused on how PEO Digital will work with subcontractors.
"We're new to the defense acquisition scene," said McSwain, who is a retired Air Force lieutenant colonel. "PEO Digital will certainly shape how the defense industry engages with the Air Force. Our work recently on force protection systems, which are in [Wert's] portfolio, is largely about software interface, so insisting on agile development of systems will have positive downstream effects on how we organize to take on a project."
Wert closed by asking industry representatives to chime in.
“We’re inviting you to come on this journey with us,” he said. “If you know of a way to leverage these processes to speed up how we do business, we want to know about it. Speed is our biggest focus, so anyone who can help with that is welcome aboard."