Defense Department leaders discussed systems acquisition and sustainment and the people who use those systems during the 2019 Defense Services Conference today in Arlington, Virginia.
Veronica Daigle, assistant secretary of defense for readiness, said delayed passage of the 2020 military budget and piecemeal funding through continuing resolution is having an adverse effect across the military services and industries. She said it has caused delayed purchases and maintenance, deferred facility improvement and scaled-back training exercises.
She said continuing resolutions result in a lack of certainty about what will be funded and how much will be allocated.
Other speakers addressed specific systems challenges and solutions.
Scott Baum, principal director of industrial policy at DOD, said systems are made of various materials that may be rare or difficult to obtain in the future.
He said that includes rare earth metal, but there are other things that go into weapons and systems that are classified.
Besides mining new metals, a good solution to this problem could be to design the systems to require less of these metals or perhaps use a different alloy.
Baum said new designs could be created quickly and efficiently using additive manufacturing — also called 3D printing — for rapid prototyping assisted by artificial intelligence and machine learning.
He said 80% of DOD's dollars don't go for the purchase of new systems, going instead to sustainment costs for such things as tanks, planes, ships and software.
Sustainment costs include routine maintenance, software upgrades, spare parts and so on.
But there are ways to reduce sustainment costs, he said.
For instance, 3D printing could bring down the cost of spare parts, he said, adding that some systems are so old that parts aren't even made anymore.
Baum also said artificial intelligence can be helpful in predictive maintenance that point to areas of systems prone to failure or breakdown.
Artificial intelligence and 3D printing can also be used to design systems that are more robust, so they don't break down as often.
Baum said DOD has 174,000 personnel in the acquisition community across the services, and DOD's leaders are challenged in recruiting, retaining, training and better utilizing workers.
"People are the secret sauce of our success, not just in DLA but across the department," Army Lt. Gen. Darrell K. Williams, director of Defense Logistics Agency.
Williams said it's challenging to recruit people with high-demand skills — including data scientists and analysts and cybersecurity professionals — because industry is also competing for employees to fill those jobs and others.
Williams said his agency is in the midst of building modernized distribution centers worldwide and a new warehouse management system that will require new job skills.
Daigle said DOD and each of the services must cultivate a talented workforce through training and education.