The Air Force must shun traditional acquisition timelines in favor of agile acquisition approaches using experimentation and prototyping if it wants to dominate the skies in 2030 and beyond, according to a report released Tuesday.
In the Air Superiority 2030 Flight Plan, chartered by outgoing Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Welsh, the Air Force said the rapidly changing operational environment means the service can no longer afford to develop weapon systems on the linear acquisition and development timelines using traditional approaches. Air superiority capability development requires adaptable, affordable and agile processes with increasing collaboration among science and technology (S&T), acquisition, requirements and industry professionals. The Air Force anticipates highly contested air environments beyond 2030s compared to the permissive air environments it enjoyed during campaign in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Failure to adopt agile acquisition approaches is not an option, the report said. The traditional approach guarantees adversary cycles will outpace United States development, resulting in “late-to-need” delivery of critical warfighting capabilities and technologically superior adversary forces.
The speed of capability development and fielding will be critical to retain the U.S. advantage in the air. The Air Force must leverage experimentation and prototyping to more rapidly infuse advanced technologies into the force.
Additionally, the Air Force must reject thinking focused on “next generation” platforms as such emphasis often creates a desire to push technology limits within the confines of a formal program. Such efforts should be accomplished within the S&T portfolio and proven through effective prototyping, harvesting when mature to a sufficient level for transition.
The service believes pushing technological limits in a formal program increase risk to unacceptable levels, resulting in cost growth and schedule slips. This puts such programs at risk of cancellation due to their nearly inevitable underperformance and results in delivery of capabilities “late to need” by years or even decades.
Increasing lethality and reach of adversary weapons will significantly increase the risk to large battle management command and control (BMC2) platforms like Airborne Warning and Control System (AWACS) in 2030. This will limit their ability to see and manage activities in these highly contested environments.
To overcome these shortfalls, the Air Force should develop concepts that disaggregate this capability using multiple sensor platforms, including teamed manned and unmanned systems, a robust battlespace information architecture and dispersed C2. Key efforts in this capability area are Advanced Battle Management System (ABMS) and operational level C2.