DoD Reshapes its Acquisition and Tech Units

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The Department of Defense is splitting up and reorganizing its acquisition system in an effort to keep up with the times. A changing threat landscape and a new world order in how technology is developed, and business is conducted is behind the shift, according to DoD officials.

The Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology, and Logistics (AT&L) is being divided into two organizations, each with an undersecretary in charge: Acquisition and Sustainment, and Research and Engineering. The reorganization, ordered by Congress as part of the fiscal 2017 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), is intended to simplify and streamline processes for developing and testing new technology and fielding it more quickly than DoD does now.

The two-year transition process officially took effect Feb. 1, though it’s starting with a 120-day working period during which DoD is setting up offices and developing a prototype for how to implement new processes before any actual changes take hold.

The goal is to get DoD up to what Deputy Defense Secretary Pat Shanahan last year called “the speed of relevance” in investing in new capabilities to keep the U.S. military ahead of Russia and China. “The DoD research, engineering, acquisition and sustainment organizations and processes must be sources of competitive advantage that ensure the warfighting superiority of U.S. forces around the globe,” according to a DoD report in response to the 2017 NDAA.

DoD leaders have expressed concern about the potential of falling behind China, Russia, and other adversaries in a number of new-tech areas, including artificial intelligence, electronic warfare, and cyberspace, noting Russia’s recent cyberattacks on infrastructure. (Not to mention Russia’s recent tests of an “invincible” ICBM that purportedly can strike undeterred anywhere in the world, and one that can shoot down satellites, something China also recently demonstrated again. Meanwhile, rapid technology advances in the private sector is driving DoD to lower some of the barriers to getting its hands on new capabilities and getting them into the field.

For acquisition, that means making it easier for companies to do business with DoD while doing more for less, Shanahan said. And speed is of the essence.

“Importantly from an AT&L perspective, we had traditionally had milestone decision authority,” Ben FitzGerald, director of the Acquisition and Sustainment Office of Strategy and Design, said last week at a seminar on the change. “That has been delegated down to the [military] services. We now have the authority to create a new tier of acquisitioning … to do rapid prototyping [and] rapid fielding.”

Managing acquisition will be a data-driven approach on at least two levels, FitzGerald said. One level will be focusing on the performance of the acquisition system, and one will be examining the capabilities of products and services. Sustainment–maintaining operations throughout a mission–will be a key focus, because it accounts for about 70 percent of capability costs, but also provides the opportunity to improve capabilities while in use.

“An opportunity to innovate is usually in the sustainment phase,” FitzGerald said. “We need to figure out how to bring that community up front so it can influence how we design, so we can design for sustainment, so we have ways to prototype into sustainment, so we can think about the sustainment of [areas such as] software.”

DoD officials have talked for years about the need to develop, test, and deploy new technologies at an accelerated pace, and the need to do it in concert with industry. The restructuring of its acquisition processes, officials say, can help make that happen by design.

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