The New Digital Acquisition Reality: What This Means for Industry and DoD


The New Digital Acquisition Reality

For Dr. Will Roper, the Assistant Secretary of the Air Force for Acquisition, Technology, and Logistics, the future of defense acquisition is now. In a report on September 15, he laid out his vision for altering the very nature of the acquisition process, which calls on industry and the DoD to adopt the concept of digital acquisition. It is meant to create a significantly “faster, agiler, and more competitive weapons-buying process” that will profoundly decrease cost, foster a healthier industrial base, and dictate America’s long-term innovative success. While this intended shift is directed currently towards Air Force and Space Force it is part of a broader goal of integrating the entire U.S. military into a more cohesive fighting force of which acquisition is the foundational step. If adopting this new approach fails, he believes the risk of losing competition to adversarial militaries in China and Russia will exponentially increase.

Digital acquisition emphasizes a commitment to open architecture and agile software, as well as digital engineering and management. Simply expressed, this ‘digital trinity’ is meant to foster a virtual acquisition process where hundreds of programs and systems can be designed, assembled, tested, and even sustained before the first parts are purchased or used in reality.  According to Dr. Roper, it is this ‘Matrix-like simulation realism’ with the newer slogan of ‘eCreate Before You Aviate’ that is so exciting for both the Department and industry.

Central to this form of acquisition is creating ‘tech stacks’ that integrate various layers within it and are accessible enterprise-wide as a Service (aaS) to every program, platform, team, and operator. These layers include Cloud aaS (#cloudOne), Artificial Intelligence aaS (#smartOne Platform), aaS (#platformOne), Model-Based System Engineering aaS (#mbseOne), Data aaS (#dataOne), Data Analytics aaS (#analyzeOne), and hopefully Edge aas (#deviceOne).  Ultimately, the goal is to transfer these tech stacks to the ‘edge’ in order to enable the warfighter access to continuously improving software and capabilities. This requires a digital acquisition process to achieve.


What This Means for Industry

The goal of digital acquisition does not only aim to create a single unified infrastructure able to manage many competing offerings seamlessly under the Department’s purview.  For Dr. Roper, this ‘One’ infrastructure and its combined tools must be available to industry to ensure that the acquisition process has continuity. A digitally shared process enables industry and government to manage the common tech baseline, design review, cost basis, workflow manager, test point anchor, and authority to operate.  Moreover, this government infrastructure “will provide companies with cyber-secure infrastructure, cross-classification IT independent of hardware, and much faster capability generation leveraging automatic government classifications in the [tech] stack itself.”

This will place a substantial weight on the ability of the Department to maintain this infrastructure, certification processes, training, and data to ensure a continuum of lifecycle activities. But, Dr. Roper believes the payoff is massive and facilitates the acquisition process in shedding concurrency, learning curves, integration risks, etc.

Adopting digital engineering and management, agile software, and open architecture ensures that digital lifecycles mirror physical ones. It allows a transition to digital lifecycles that is not only de-risked, but one where programs, especially new ones, will also be significantly more cost-effective and time-saving.  Here, programs are simulated in a digital acquisition process where utility is illustrated by the fact that success of a program can now be determined virtually before procurement begins. 

In this respect, Dr. Roper believes this digitally-enabled approach will impact the ways in which the Department will acquire and field new capabilities. He expresses that it is the Department’s objective to introduce smaller, iterative lots that transition away from mega-primes and “generate more modernization and sustainment savings than [it] loses to procurement and RDT&E efficiencies.”

Given this objective based on limited platforms and mission systems, digital acquisition signifies a shifting manner in which primes and suppliers will be selected. Following the example of The Next Generation Air Dominance (NGAD) program, leveraging this new tech stack will require mission systems to be developed separately; particular government teams will select the optimal system-platform pairs.  The goal of this is to enable a reality of “a continuous competitive ecosystem where the latest tech can go on the latest jet.” 

Moreover, the imperative of incorporating agile software is meant to streamline potential integration difficulties across vendors, ensure competition of mission apps and safety-critical code remain separate, and distribute code among all platforms.

Invoking Dr. Roper’s metaphor of ‘The Matrix’, the risks are too high for the DoD and industry to not take the ‘red pill’ and adopt the digital acquisition process.

Topics: Acquisition, Acquisition Programs, Defense Innovation, Information Technology, Cyber

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