HANSCOM AIR FORCE BASE, Mass. -- Air Force acquisition is battling the pincer effect of shrinking workforces and expanding portfolios, according to Lt. Gen. Robert McMurry, who spoke at a defense industry event in Bedford, Massachusetts, Thursday.
McMurry, commander of the Air Force Life Cycle Management Center, which oversees the total life cycle for all Air Force aircraft, engines, munitions and electronic systems, was delivering a State of the Center address. The Lexington-Concord Chapter of the Armed Forces Communications and Electronics Association sponsored the event, which more than 200 people attended.
“In order to modernize, in order to acquire better systems, build partnerships and retain the best people, we have to change the basic ways we look at what we do,” said McMurry, listing many of the Secretary of Defense and Secretary of the Air Force’s top priorities. "We are entwined in these priorities," the general said, noting that the center has gained many new programs while continuing to manage almost all existing ones. As a result, "We're going to need to change some core practices," he added.
Nearly two-thirds of AFLCMC’s civilian workforce is 45 years old or older and 36 percent will be eligible to retire in five years, according to McMurry. Couple that with $25 billion in deferred facilities sustainment throughout the Air Force, and you have an aging workforce in buildings that could be nearing irreparability.
At the same time, in 2017, AFLCMC processed 17,000 contract actions worth $43 billion, and sustained only three protests from industry contractors who believed the process was unfair, according to McMurry.
“Those were protests on major projects, and of course, the protest rate is higher for larger programs, but that’s a huge success. We should be champions for ourselves when things go right,” he added.
The LCMC commander highlighted both traditional and innovative efforts by Hanscom’s program executive officers to move applications onto the cloud, sustain and modernize the E-8 Joint STARS and E-3 Sentry Airborne Warning and Control System and provide better Air Operations Center software to warfighters.
McMurry particularly emphasized the agile development work being done to modernize those operations centers. He noted that providing rapid capability deliveries – often at minimally viable levels up front – in close concert with operators deviates substantially from the traditional acquisition process.
Fox news highlighted this innovative approach in a feature that shows Airmen working with leading-edge tech firms to build software applications to meet warfighter needs.
McMurry also focused heavily on five lines of effort the center is pursuing: Responsive Human capital, including faster hiring, better development and the ability to move people to where work needs to be done; Recognized Expertise, which demands, among other things, training and retaining the best people and creating a collaborative culture; Innovative Execution, which requires partnering with the labs, streamlining authorities and developing an innovative culture; Adaptive Bases and Infrastructure, referring to buildings and workspaces but also to the network; and Purposeful Engagement, centered on creating support and advocacy for the mission by celebrating successes and building relationships with local, state and federal leadership.
The commander’s presentation resonated with members of the audience.
“Seeing how he’s focused on newer, and more rare contract forms was very interesting,” said Leslie Dickson, a contract specialist with strategic services division at Hanscom. “I’ve been doing this [job] for about two years here, and I came out just to see what his focus items are. I think he’s got an eye on the big things that affect everyone, like facilities and networks.”
Dickson is a member of the Revolutionary Acquisition Techniques Procedures and Collaboration team, made up of junior acquisition personnel who take on case studies to recommend improvements to the contracting process. Open design workspaces and innovative approaches to acquisition are recurring focus items for RATPACs, which are held at Hanscom.
“Taking care of everyone we have at our detachment can be complicated, because you don’t always know what they do,” said Senior Airman William Foster, unit deployment manager for AFLCMC Detachment 7 at Hanscom, who advises Hanscom’s program executive officers on military personnel management and provides administrative control over members. “Seeing this helped me connect the people I’m helping every day with the mission they do, and whether you’re talking weapons systems or facilities upgrades, it’s all pretty critical to what the Air Force does, our core mission.”