Making Prototyping Work

Pentagon leaders plan to do a lot more prototyping in order to rebuild the US technology lead, but the trick now is to give the technology consistency and a place to go, Air Force acquisition chief William LaPLante said in an interview with Air Force Magazine. LaPlante acknowledged that a similar prototyping push in the mid-1990s created a “flurry” of “pretty innovative, successful things,” such as the Predator drone. But “it seemed to lose steam, after about three years,” he observed. One of the reasons, he believes, is that such initiatives are “very personality-dependent. Leadership has to drive it,” and when certain people leave office, the “push” to innovate goes with them. Another reason is that “the second half of this was never solved, which was, where does this stuff go?” LaPlante said he’s “focused … every day,” along with USAF leadership, to ensure that prototyping is “institutionalized,” so that it doesn’t “wither” when its champion exits office. “I own the landing pad for that,” he said, saying he will labor to create a smooth conduit for innovation. USAF has to “train ourselves to think … this is natural,” that “it’s expected that [program offices should be] grabbing this stuff and … figuring out how” to insert it in their programs. LaPlante emphasized the importance of creating “an institutional ability to continue past the ins-and-outs of differing personalities, including my own.”