A central tenet of the Army’s new Rapid Capabilities Office is ensuring that future soldier equipment and systems can be rapidly upgraded as technologies emerge and evolve.

Katrina McFarland, acting assistant secretary of the Army for acquisition, technology and logistics, said open architecture requirements will both keep weapons and capabilities relevant and the cost of upgrading them low.

“That is an area that we believe is the future of how we will be able to address threats, especially given the short amount of dollars that we have,” McFarland said Thursday at a forum hosted by Bloomberg Government in Washington, D.C.  

Acting Assistant Secretary of the Army for Acquisition, Logistics and Technology Katrina McFarland

“It’s not just a capability we are seeking,” she said. “We’re talking about how we gather our equipment to be an open architecture system, with owning the correct type of interface system … and build our contracts to have that open structure so we have an agreement with the systems integrator – the OEM (Original Equipment Manufacturer), if you want to call it – so that we can insert technology competitively or not, when necessary.”

She called for systems with specific “design architectures” into which emerging technologies can be plugged on a swift turnaround schedule.

“We, organically, have to be more agile toward not just the threat but the technology and the opportunity within that technology,” she said. “It drives down cost.”

Rep. Mac Thornberry (R-Texas), from his perch as chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, has called for a greater reliance on open architecture systems for all Defense Department acquisition programs and has made the issue a central theme of his push to reform how the Pentagon buys weapons. He praised the Army’s unveiling of the Rapid Capabilities Office in a statement.

“The Army’s emphasis on getting new technologies into the hands of our troops faster is commendable, and we appreciate the service’s willingness to work closely with the Armed Services Committee on this critical issue,” Thornberry said. “The push to fund more experimentation and prototyping of weapons is not only an important step in simplifying and reforming the acquisition process, it is essential to our security, helping us keep pace with our adversaries, and maintaining the United States’ technological superiority on the battlefield.

Thornberry and McFarland are invited to speak Oct. 18 at the 2016 Defense Daily Open Architecture Summit, which will focus on OA as a key element of the current push for acquisition reform.

Within the Army some nuclear – as in smaller, insulated – offices are experimenting with open architecture requirements, McFarland said. The challenge is to get the entire acquisition workforce, Army program offices and industry on the same page.  

“How do we create that open structure so that we can be agile enough – contractually and technologically – to bring that to bear,” she says. “We are working on that particular thing in … the Rapid Capabilities Office.”