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Rapid Acquisition Benefits Special Operations, DOD Official Says

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The Defense Department's top priorities are defending the nation, taking care of its people and succeeding through teamwork. Each of these topline priorities touch everything that personnel do at DOD's acquisition and sustainment office, said the official performing the duties of under secretary of defense for that organization.

Stacy A. Cummings provided keynote remarks today at the National Defense Industrial Association's virtual 2021 Special Operations Forces Industry Conference.

Troops train using green smoke in a field.
Black Swan 21
Special operations forces from Austria, Croatia, Hungary, Slovakia, Slovenia and the United States participate in vehicle interdiction training as part of Black Swan 21 in Szolnok, Hungary, May 12, 2021.
Photo By: Army Spc. Therese Prats
VIRIN: 210512-A-RQ926-1039

"We need to be able to keep pace with advanced and persistent threats in today's dynamic environment, and that depends on expanding the competitive space. For A&S, that means taking a hard look at our acquisition processes and portfolios to ensure we have the right balance and capabilities for the future," she said.

Cummings discussed A&S's adaptive acquisition framework in the context of the special operations mission.

"Often, the special ops forces require a much smaller procurement [quantity] of more nuanced and cutting-edge capability, and the ability for us to outpace our adversaries really is dependent upon agility in acquisition," she said.

The traditional DOD acquisition system wasn't set up for speed and agility to deliver capability to the warfighter, she noted.

And then most importantly we wanted to accelerate delivery of timelines, so that we can get capability into the hands of the warfighter faster.''
Stacy A. Cummings

A few years back, the department decided to transform acquisition policy from the ground up, she said. "Our goal was to deliver a defense acquisition system that provided flexibility for programs used to tailor their approaches, depending on the capability that they were tasked to acquire on behalf of the warfighter. We wanted to empower those program teams to think critically and apply common sense to decision making, something that I think that the Special Operations community acquisition community excels at. 

"And then most importantly we wanted to accelerate delivery of timelines, so that we can get capability into the hands of the warfighter faster," Cummings added.

At its core, the comprehensive redesign of the view DOD 5000 series of acquisition policies took one very large policy document and divided it into six clear distinct, separate pathways, called the adaptive acquisition framework, or AAF, she said.

Those pathways simplify policy, enable a tailored approach, empower program managers, facilitate data-driven analytics and manage risk, she said.

Feedback from the special operations community was critical to formulating this new AAF approach, she said. That community really embraced the middle tier of acquisition, which focuses on speed of delivery. 

The middle tier of acquisition pathway is used to rapidly develop fieldable prototypes within an acquisition program to demonstrate new capabilities and/or to rapidly field production quantities of systems with proven technologies that require minimal development.

Airmen load an aircraft.
Loadmaster Work
Air Force Senior Airman Preston Kovarsky, a loadmaster assigned to the 701st Airlift Squadron, guides an M142 High Mobility Artillery Rocket System onto a C-17 Globemaster III assigned to the 62nd Airlift Wing at Alpena Combat Readiness Training Center, Mich., May 18, 2021.
Photo By: Air Force Staff Sgt. Joseph Pick
VIRIN: 210518-F-UQ958-2083

One of the department's first middle tier pathway programs was the special operations forces combat diving program, she said. It is a free-diver heating and cooling system consisting of a mobile electric power system that uses high-efficiency heat pump technology to circulate heated or cooled water for the operators through a tube, suit or vest. 

As a result, the operator gains the ability to sustain untethered long-duration exposure, she said. This was a great capability that the Special Operations community was looking to deploy, and the middle tier of acquisition pathway enabled the program team to develop and field prototypes within a month of the validated requirements. 

In total there are 74 programs currently using the middle tier of acquisition, 59 of them are rapid prototyping and 15 are rapid building, she noted, adding that the department plans to expand it.

Cummings also noted that cyber secure software delivery at speed is high on the department's priorities because of the evolving threats and disruptive technologies. She said the goal is to deliver software in a matter of days or weeks, not months or years.

More about the set of acquisition pathways can be found at

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