Acquisition strategy to improve stakeholder relationships, transparency

Dr. William LaPlante talks to attendees about Air Force acquisition during the 2014 Air Force Association's Air & Space Conference and Technology Exposition Sept. 16, 2014, in Washington D.C. LaPlante is the assistant secretary of Air Force acquisition. He directs more than $35 billion annual investments that include major programs like the KC-46 Pegasus, F-22 Raptor, F-35 Lightning II, C-17 Globemaster, Space acquisitions, munitions, as well as capability areas such as information technology and command and control, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, or C4ISR, systems. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Anthony Nelson Jr.)

Dr. William LaPlante talks to attendees about Air Force acquisition during the 2014 Air Force Association's Air & Space Conference and Technology Exposition Sept. 16, 2014, in Washington D.C. LaPlante is the assistant secretary of Air Force acquisition. He directs more than $35 billion annual investments that include major programs like the KC-46 Pegasus, F-22 Raptor, F-35 Lightning II, C-17 Globemaster, Space acquisitions, munitions, as well as capability areas such as information technology and command and control, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, or C4ISR, systems. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Anthony Nelson Jr.)

WASHINGTON (AFNS) -- The assistant secretary of the Air Force for acquisition outlined the Air Force procurement priorities at the 2014 Air Force Association's Air & Space Conference and Technology Exhibition here Sept. 16.

In his first address to AFA as assistant secretary, Dr. William A. LaPlante said his aim is to improve upon the services' track record by building stakeholder relationships and transparency.

"The strategy of Air Force acquisition is really the 'what' we want to do ... We want to have a good, effective acquisition process that delivers to the warfighter capabilities that will be with them for years to come and are sustainable and economical," he said.

While previously dramatically understaffed before his arrival to the Pentagon, the secretary said his office is now beginning to reshape its outlook for the future.

"We're at full strength for the first time in more than five years," LaPlante said. "We're now tackling not just the execution, but tackling strategy and moving together to where we need to go with Air Force acquisition."

Part of the initiated changes, LaPlante said, is a reshaping of acquisitions along with the five-center construct restructuring at Air Force Materiel Command.

"One of the benefits of the construct from an acquisition perspective is that the program executive officers, or PEOs, own the life-cycle sustainment for systems. That's a very important thing and a difference in culture and outlook," he said. "When you have to live with what you're building and with the legacy systems that you're replacing, it gives you a totally different view on acquisitions."

Bringing in sustainment and life-cycle support to the acquisitions thinking, LaPlante said there will be a common approach to find the most cost effective program -- not just in the near term but during a program's life cycle.

"I think what you're seeing is a strategic shift, where the Air Force is leading ahead of the other services in having both our PEOs and our headquarters mindful of sustainment," he added. "In regards to depot management, the Air Force is considered to be the best among the services and we want to build upon that success."

LaPlante said going forward, Air Force acquisition will need to follow principles of strategic agility and adaptability and described the five acquisition priorities: getting high priority programs right and keeping them on track; ensuring transparency; owning the technical baseline for important programs; building on "better buying power" to achieve best outcomes; and finally, building a long-term strategy that includes strategic agility.

Listing current progress on top priority acquisitions programs, F-35 Lightning II, the KC-46A Pegasus, and long-range strike bomber, LaPlante said these programs are largely on track without major changes.

The secretary said while an acquisition program is often at the center of scrutiny when there are challenges -- such as the recent engine fire of the F-35 and others -- there are many preconceived misperceptions. Acquisition processes are often complex and explaining them in a way that is clear and concise is a challenge.

"When you look at (Air Force) acquisitions, there are a lot of good things going on," LaPlante said. "We just have to tell those stories."

Part of better telling the acquisition story, he said, is transparency about progress on innovation and modernization programs.

"Development programs take too long," he added. "The average planning is for a five-year program and we end up executing, on average, a seven-year plan. That's true for the other services as well -- and that's not good."

LaPlante further stressed the importance of reducing costs through increased efficiency and effectiveness by reducing time-to-contract award without compromising cost negotiations.

Another part of transparency is working with industry partners in actively developing Air Force programs by connecting warfighter needs with industry expertise.

"We want to bring industry in before we have the requirements figured out," he said. "How can we ask industry to help us innovate if they are not in at the front end when we're working on these concepts?"

Other factors to control cost include empowered, strong program offices who own the technical baseline and data on their programs.

LaPlante also called for adaptability and said that in a changing world, Air Force acquisition needs to be able to adjust to changing requirements.

"Increasing the agility and effectiveness within our acquisition workforce will set us on the right path to meet the dynamic needs of our warfighters," LaPlante added. "It's a great time to be in Air Force acquisition."