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Parallel Processes Can Speed Up Weapons Acquisition, Vice Chairman Says

Taking the parallel versus sequential route in the acquisition process, might speed up the way the Defense Department gets new systems into the hands of warfighters, the vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said.

"We're too slow. How do we go faster?" asked Navy Adm. Christopher W. Grady during a conversation Wednesday with the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington. "First I think it starts with we have to be a good customer."

The DOD could be a better customer, for instance, by doing a better job at writing requirements for the things it needs, Grady said.

"We have to have a good understanding," he said. "We have to communicate that to ... industry. And I think the services are working really hard to do that."

A photo shows a five-sided building.
The Pentagon
An aerial of the The Pentagon, May 12, 2021.
Photo By: Air Force Tech. Sgt. Brittany A. Chase
VIRIN: 210512-D-BM568-1183

Another way to speed up acquisition, he said, is to look at how some of the steps in the acquisition process might be done at the same time, in parallel, rather than one after the other, in a serial fashion.

"A lot of things that we have done in the past has been in-serial," he said. "We do this, then we do this, and then we come to the end — we have achieved the end state that we're shooting for."

An example of that, he said, is in how systems in the acquisition process are tested. But such testing could be done in parallel with acquisition.

"We can do and embed the testing apparatus in the acquisition process as we work our way along, such that when we're ready at the very end, all we have to do is that final test, as opposed to then starting the whole testing process," he said.

That kind of process change, he said, was used with the recently-unveiled B-21 Raider aircraft. "It worked really well there," he said.

The DOD's Adaptive Acquisition Framework, Grady said, and the Rapid Defense Experimentation Reserve, which is an initiative to encourage prototyping and experimentation in pursuit of solutions to joint problems, are also techniques that can speed up acquisition and get capabilities more quickly to warfighters.

The defense industrial base in the United States, which is the community of commercial companies that manufacture equipment, supplies and weapons for the department, is now more fragile than it has been in recent years. Grady said he sees three problems contributing to that. The first is that the base has gotten smaller.

"There's this contraction of the industrial base that happened perhaps during the peace dividend years," he said.

At one time, Grady said, the U.S. may have had as many as 25 shipyards to build vessels for the U.S. Navy, for instance. Now that number, he said, might be as low as six.

Also, Grady said, is the complexity of the kinds of systems the U.S. military wants. During World War II, he said, U.S. shipyards were able to manufacture the relatively simple "Liberty" ship in days. That kind of speed isn't possible with today's modern ships, aircraft and ground combat systems.

A B-21 Raider aircraft is unveiled with blue and white lights in the background.
Raider Unveiled
A B-21 Raider is unveiled at Northrop Grumman's manufacturing facility at Air Force Plant 42 in Palmdale, Calif., Dec. 2, 2022. The B-21 will be a long-range, highly survivable, penetrating strike stealth bomber capable of delivering both conventional and nuclear munitions.
Photo By: Air Force Airman 1st Class Joshua Carroll
VIRIN: 221202-F-CA816-2046

"So, to maintain an industrial base that has the right number of artisans to create these complex systems at speed is going to be a challenge," he said.

Thirdly, he said, is the concept of "just-in-time" inventory management, used extensively in the private sector to keep costs down and increase efficiency. Under that concept, raw materials are not kept on hand as part of a company's regular inventory but are purchased and brought on board only as they are needed to meet manufacturing requirements.

"If I'm in industry in the '90s, early 2000s, that made a lot of sense," Grady said. "There's a good profit margin that can be there. That's a Phase 0, peacetime mode. It's not necessarily, I think, as we're seeing now, going to pay off in a Phase 3 — or the fight that we see now."

As part of joint warfighting doctrine, "Phase 0" is known as the "shaping" phase — which happens during peacetime; while "Phase 3" involves active combat, such as what is happening now in Ukraine.

"I think the question will be how do we incentivize an industrial base that will allow us to find the right answer," he said. "It's going to be a hybrid, I think, in terms of how much [we need] to stockpile and what do we need from a hot production or a warm production line."

The ideal industrial base to support the U.S. military, Grady said, has ample competition, allows private capital to flow freely back and forth and features robust, diversified and trusted supply chains. An ideal industrial base might also be larger than just the U.S., he said — it might include allies and partners as well.

"And in the end, it has to be one that can surge," he said. "The question then is, how do we incentivize to do that?"

Grady said that kind of work is being done now by Deputy Defense Secretary Kathleen H. Hicks and William LaPlante, the under secretary of defense for acquisition and sustainment.

"The Defense Production Act, the Article III authorities are now in place — some of the waivers that we need," Grady said. "That's a good step in the right direction."

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