Air Force Applying Rapid-Acquisition Authorities to Nine Programs

Acquisition Executive? Will Roper, right, looks on with Steven Wert, Battle Management program executive officer, Air Force Life Cycle Management Center at Hanscom AFB, Mass., during a presentation at Project Kessel Run in the WeWork shared space in Boston on July 30, 2018. Air Force photo by Todd Maki.

Nine Air Force development initiatives will move forward in the next five years using new prototyping and faster fielding authorities, according to a recent letter from Acquisition Executive Will Roper to the Senate Armed Services Committee.

This is the first group of Air Force development efforts to leverage rapid-acquisition authorities granted by Congress in Section 804 of the Fiscal 2016 National Defense Authorization Act. The December status report, which Air Force Magazine viewed Jan. 18, is the first of three that Roper plans to publish this fiscal year to document each program’s progress.

According to Roper, the programs include the Hypersonic Conventional Strike Weapon and Air-Launched Rapid-Response Weapon missile-development efforts. Three aircraft initiatives made the list: the B-52 engine replacement effort, F-22 upgrades, and the search for a light-attack aircraft. Section 804 authorities will also be used to accelerate the Unified Platform for cyber operators and the fifth increment of the Integrated Strategic Planning and Analysis Network, as well as two space-focused efforts, the Next-Generation Overhead Persistent Infrared and Protected Tactical Enterprise Service programs.

The Air Force is trying to accelerate certain programs with prototypes that build on previous designs. In one instance, the Air Force Research Laboratory is teaming with the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency to operationalize a missile powered by a rocket booster.

“Specifically, leveraging DARPA-AFRL Tactical Boost Glide technology significantly reduces design risk, enabling much faster EOC [early operational capability],” the report said of the Air-Launched Rapid-Response Weapon.

For the Hypersonic Conventional Strike Weapon, the document adds: “Leveraging flight-tested aeroshells from the Common Hypersonic Glide Vehicle significantly reduced technical risk, enabling much faster EOC.”

The software-intensive slate of F-22 improvements to GPS, communications, and more, as well as the nuclear, space, and cyber programs, will depend on iterative updates that are developed and pushed out in small batches to avoid being delayed by monolithic upgrade packages.

A program can qualify for special treatment under Section 804 if the Air Force determines that a prototype can be operational, or a system delivered, in two to five years. Roper is a key advocate for speeding the research-to-fielding pipeline as much as possible and has encouraged program officials to embrace new acquisition strategies.