The U.S. Air Force plans to hold a service-wide “acquisition day” in late May to review the status of its programs, including how they are doing on cost and what they can do to deploy new technology more quickly.

Air Force acquisition chief William Roper said April 27 that he hopes one portion of the full-day event will focus on expanding the use of technology to improve sustainment, which accounts for much of the service’s spending on weapon systems. 

Air Force acquisition chief William Roper (Photo courtesy of Air Force)
Air Force acquisition chief William Roper (Photo courtesy of Air Force)

“Sustainment has problems,” Roper told reporters at the Pentagon. “We have aircraft on the ground that should be in the air.”

Potential solutions mentioned by Roper include making greater use of artificial intelligence, predictive maintenance and three-dimensional printed parts, and paying more attention to sustainment when designing weapon systems.

“I think there’s a lot we can do here,” he said.

Roper believes rapid delivery of software updates will be key to the continued modernization of the service’s new Lockheed Martin [LMT]-built F-35A Lightning II. To show the fighter jet program can achieve such agile software development, Roper is looking to pursue “pathfinders” in F-35 sustainment areas, such as the autonomic logistics information system (ALIS) or mission data files.

“Most of what we have left to do [on the F-35] is software,” he said. “The department has not historically been good at software development. Across the Air Force, we’ve got to get better at software.”

Air Force officials say the return of great-power competition means that the service must implement technological advances more quickly to maintain its edge in the battlespace.

“You could imagine in a future war, we could be changing software every day of the war as a necessary factor for winning,” Roper said. “We’re going to have to do it because software’s going to be the delineator.”