SecAF James Outlines "Operational Agility" and "Should Schedule" Initiatives

SecAF James Outlines "Operational Agility" and "Should Schedule" Initiatives

Secretary of the Air Force Deborah Lee James laid out a new Future Operating Concept today that will be further illuminated in a document to be released later this week.  Its precept is multi-domain “operational agility” integrating cyber, space and air operations.  She also outlined a “should schedule” initiative to speed up acquisitions.

Speaking at the Air Force Association’s annual Air and Space Conference, James offered a future operational agility scenario that, she conceded, sounded like science fiction.

In this hypothetical situation, an earthquake strikes a large city in a remote part of the world.  Within hours, air-launched small satellites are deployed from “the back of an Air Force mobility transport” that provide global communications connectivity and imagery to first responders.  The imagery identifies a usable airport that allows flights to deliver needed supplies and a plethora of small UAVs, controlled through a satellite network, to provide wireless Internet and “cutting edge sensors” for rescue crews.  Meanwhile, back in San Antonio, TX, a “cell of violent extremists” intent on attacking rescue crews is identified by Air Force ISR and cyber teams who then task armed UAVs to “target this leadership cell and, boom, it’s all over for the bad guys.”

She said this is how the Air Force needs to work in the future – a Future Operating Concept – to be detailed in a publication to be released later this week.

Such a plan will take money to execute, of course, and she was quite blunt in her assessment of the current budget situation on Capitol Hill.   “I want to once again take this opportunity to call on Congress to permanently lift sequestration.  We have to send sequestration to the bone yard once and for all.”

She was equally forceful about the prospect that Congress will not pass the FY2016 budget by the end of this month and DOD will be funded through a Continuing Resolution (CR) instead.  Whether the CR will be for a few weeks, a few months, or even the full year is completely up in the air.

James said a long-term CR would be even worse than sequestration.  “It would provide even less money than sequestration, it would not allow us to have any new starts, it would affect every part of our Air Force.”  It would interfere with modernization efforts and “once again hit readiness.”

The Air Force needs to do its part as well to “make every dollar count,” especially in speeding up the acquisition process.  She outlined a “should schedule” analog to the existing “should cost” approach.  Under “should cost,” an independent cost estimate (ICE) is required at key points of a program and program offices and industry are challenged to beat the ICE to drive costs down.   Savings are then directed back into programs.

“Should schedule” would do the same with delivery times, incentivizing industry to accelerate successfully the engineering, manufacturing and development (EMD) phase.   She listed three pilot programs that will be used as experiments: the Enhanced GPS/INS Modernization program, the Advanced Precision Kill Weapon System, and the MS-177 electro-optical sensor.  “An accelerated EMD plan would need to survive a detailed scrub by independent engineers,” she stressed.

The title of her talk was Reinventing the Aerospace Nation, which she defined as “the community of air minded people around the globe who engage in and with and through air, space and cyberspace to create ultimately a better world for all of us.”  She encouraged conference attendees to “discard existing paradigms” and “cultivate innovation and creativity.”

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