Roper Says Unfunded Priorities Will Include “Accelerations”

Will Roper, assistant secretary of the Air Force for Acquisition, Tachnology and Logisitics, participates in the “Tools For Speed” panel at AFA’s Air, Space & Cyber Conference on Sept. 17 in National Harbor, Md. Staff photo by Mike Tsukamoto.

When Congress asks the Air Force what else it would buy if it got more funding than it requests in Fiscal 2020, one of the answers will be program “accelerations,” service acquisition chief Will Roper said Monday at AFA’s Air, Space & Cyber Conference.

Speaking at an industry panel discussion on speeding up the acquisition process, Roper said “we will identify … not just things” the Air Force could buy with extra money, but time. The service will make a short list, to be included in its Unfunded Priorities, of programs that could actually go faster if the resources are made available. This is just one more way the Air Force is looking to shave years off its plodding acquisition process, Roper said.

Other ways include “tailoring” programs to “the things that matter,” and not spending extra time or money trying to obtain the last 10 percent of performance from a system, especially if the operator doesn’t really need that extra margin, he said.

Roper said USAF wants to shave the time needed to launch a modest-sized program down as much as possible. “Two months is not fast enough,” he said. “We are working on getting it down to a single day.”

The “Section 804” legislation giving program managers more power over their own projects is also “very exciting,” he said, noting that he has observed “they tend to be very maverick-y” and quite willing to innovate to obtain sharp reductions in development time.

Roper said he wants program mangers edgy enough to be “willing to fail” on lower-end requirements. “We’re not taking enough risk” on innovative concepts, he said.

However, he said such an approach would be inappropriate on a major system like the Ground-Based Strategic Deterrent, which represents a huge investment and will be kept in the inventory for decades. He said he’s happy with the approach USAF is taking on programs like GBSD, where the service goes slower at “the front end” to make sure the project is on solid footing, then speeds up later when everything is well understood. In most other programs, though, program managers will be asked to manage to a time limit, and they will have to “fight for an extra day … or month.”

Roper said he believes industry has the right mindset on speed, which is, “We have to make this quarter count; we have to make this year count” on every program. He believes the US will soon be able to move more quickly than its adversaries on new projects. “We’ll win as long as [we] don’t get in our own way,” he asserted.