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DOD Acquisition Official Underscores Importance of Production in Keeping U.S. Edge

The Pentagon's top acquisition official today underscored the importance of the defense industry's ability to produce new capabilities amid a rapidly changing technology landscape.

A man in a suit gestures as he stands behind a microphone. The sign behind him indicates that he is at the Pentagon.
Pentagon Briefing
William A. LaPlante, undersecretary of defense for acquisition and sustainment, holds a press briefing at the Pentagon, May 6, 2022.
Photo By: Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class James K. Lee
VIRIN: 220506-D-WA993-1006

William A. LaPlante, undersecretary of defense for acquisition and sustainment, said that while anticipating future requirements remains essential, the ability to prepare for rapidly emerging threats is critical.

"You can predict all you want; you need to predict, but you also have to be prepared that something, overnight, can just change," LaPlante said during the McAleese Defense Programs Conference in Washington. 

The annual conference serves as a forum for defense officials, members of Congress, and industry stakeholders to discuss defense priorities.  

LaPlante noted rapid changes in key technologies require constant adaptation by defense leaders and industry to maintain the United States' edge.

"Particularly in areas like counter [unmanned aircraft systems] right now," he said. "It's rapidly changing overnight." 

He said new UAS systems being fielded by adversaries are often platforms that can be fielded quickly, adding to the challenge in fielding systems to counter them.

Soldiers in uniform point devices into the air.
Soldiers assigned to the Army’s 82nd Airborne Division aim weapons designed to counter unmanned aircraft systems, Fort Liberty, N.C., July 27, 2023.
Photo By: Army Pvt. Jayreliz Batista-Prado
VIRIN: 230727-A-JA130-1009

"It's not necessarily high tech," LaPlante said, adding that UAS platforms often are low-tech solutions.  

"That's why it's hard," he said. "The defenses may be higher tech, and we're having to adjust them all the time because the adversary is adjusting." 

LaPlante said that it is not only critical to prototype new technology in response to quickly evolving threats, but to quickly scale production of those new systems. 

"I'm trying to make sure that we're always thinking about this production part of things," he said. "Because, actually, in the prototyping and the ideas part, we're actually doing pretty well." 

LaPlante said succeeding in the emerging national security environment and meeting the pacing challenge of China, requires pivoting away from manufacturing models that don't allow for buffers against potential need and focusing on building production capacity.

Service members in uniforms and wearing hard hats walk through an industrial facility.
Factory Tour
Navy officials tour a submarine manufacturing facility in Quonset Point, R.I., Oct. 19, 2023. At a December forum, William A. LaPlante, undersecretary of defense for acquisition and sustainment, said U.S. shipbuilders have created training opportunities for high schoolers to develop skills that will be in demand in the future.
Photo By: Navy Chief Petty Officer Amanda Gray
VIRIN: 231019-N-UD469-1147A

That pivot will require a steady demand signal from the Defense Department and collaboration between the government and industry.  

"We need your help," LaPlante said, adding that adversaries are watching how the Pentagon and industry come together to meet future demands.  

"What I do, and I know all of us do, is we watch from [intelligence] or from other sources how quickly our adversaries are able to spin up their production," he said. "They're watching the same thing with us."

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