Operating in a World Where Contract Stability is Lacking

Various defense contracts, including Draken International, which provides contracted Red Air at Nellis AFB, Nev., spoke of the challenges of operating in an environment where there is little contract stability during a recent West Coast Aerospace Forum in California. Here, a Draken A-4 Skyhawk parks on the Nellis flightline at Nellis. Air Force photo by A1C Rachel Loftis.

New entrants to the defense industry recently spoke of the challenges involved with launching a new venture in a world where contract stability is lacking.

Draken International, which plays the role of adversary air at the USAF Weapons School and whose sortie tempo ranks as one of the busiest at Nellis AFB, Nev., has been operating off contract extensions for more than two years. This yields less than ideal conditions for retaining top talent and making long term plans, said John “Slick” Baum, Draken’s vice president of training, tactics, and security, at the West Coast Aerospace Forum, a joint venture with AFA’s Mitchell Institute, RAND’s Project Air Force, the Center for Strategic and International Studies, and the Aerospace Corporation.

“The DOD cannot afford to underutilize commercial partners. Especially those with excess capacity in critical need areas, such as pilot training,” said Baum. “Our front line fighters, including the F-35, are wasting thousands of precious airframe hours doing Red Air when contractors can share key portions of the burden at 1/5th of the cost per sortie.”

At the same forum, Global Space Venture’s Bulent Altan highlighted that pressures for intelligence to guide decisions in sectors like the financial world are yielding space-based technologies that were once the sole realm of governments.

This has major implications for the Department of Defense in securing effects, versus having to own the entire enterprise for a given function. This led to a unanimous panel conclusion that the government increasingly needs to look at requirements written for desired outcomes, not centered around fixed inputs.

Building off this point, Barry Matsumori of BridgeSat highlighted that success in the modern age demands a requirements process that is focused on outcomes, not undue process: “Nowhere in private industry would we see requirements documents anywhere near what the Department of Defense uses—in fact, they do not exist in many cases—things are too dynamic.”

He also explained: “When it comes to acquisition tools, namely FAR [federal acquisition regulation], the tool is perfectly fine. However, we need the right application of the tool for the program of record.”