The Pentagon’s top acquisition official said Friday he believes Congress will approve a provision allowing the department to award multi-year contracts for munitions procurements, which he cited as critical to expanding production line capacity.

“We’re going to have multi-year authority. I believe in the Congress. They are supportive of this. They’re going to give us multi-year authority and they’re going to give us funding to really put into the industrial base, and I’m talking billions of dollars into the industrial base, and to fund these production lines,” Bill LaPlante, under secretary of defense for acquisition and sustainment, said during a discussion at an event hosted by George Mason University and the Defense Acquisition University.

Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition and Sustainment Dr. William A. LaPlante holds a press brief at the Pentagon, May 6, 2022. (DoD Photo by U.S. Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class James K. Lee)

LaPlante has previously cited multi-year contracts as an option to ensure supply chain stability in the future as the Pentagon looks to produce those weapons and refill its inventories following the U.S.’ move to supply Ukraine with large numbers of critical munitions (Defense Daily, Sept. 7). 

“We, in the department, and with the Hill need to give a better plan. This is what I think [industry] is asking for, and I agree with it, that we’re committed to these areas,” LaPlante said in early September. “We buy munitions and many of these things once in a single year. We don’t do multi-year contracts. We do multi-year contracts for ships. We do it for airplanes. We don’t do it for these other munitions. We need to do it, because that will stabilize the supply chain. That will send the signal to industry to say [the Pentagon] is in it for the long haul.”

LaPlante on Friday cited multi-year deals for critical munitions, which he said the Pentagon has not done since the Cold War, as a signal to incentive industry to ensure its production lines remain viable for future surges.  

“When people see that there’s multi-year contracts coming along for munitions and that we’re going to put production lines at higher capacity and we’re going to pay for it and we’re going to put it in the RFP and we’re going to award to it, they’ll pay attention,” LaPlante said. 

The Pentagon has recently detailed more than $1 billion in contracts it’s awarded since April to begin replenishing stockpiles of weapons sent to Ukraine, with the department having identified $7 billion in replacement actions (Defense Daily, Sept. 9).

In September, LaPlante reiterated his goal remains to replenish inventories of equipment sent to Ukraine on a ‘one-to-one’ basis, either with current systems or next-generation updates (Defense Daily, Sept. 7).

LaPlante said he believes the conflict in Ukraine has also reinforced the importance of weapons that can be produced in mass quantities and bring immediate effects to the battlefield, placing it into context with the attention given to the potential applicability of emerging technologies.

“What really matters is production. Production really matters. I say that as a scientist, as an engineer who loves prototypes. I hate to say it, production matters,” LaPlante said. 

“The tech bros aren’t helping us too much in Ukraine,” LaPlante added later in the discussion. “In other words, Ukraine is not holding their own against Russia with quantum. They’re not holding their own with AI…or whatever your favorite gadget is. It’s [about] hardcore production of really serious weaponry, and that’s what matters. That’s not to say we shouldn’t invest in quantum or we shouldn’t invest in AI. I’m not at all saying that. What I am saying is it just reminds you that [Ukraine’s not] fighting with Silicon Valley right now, even though they’re going to try to take credit for it. And I won’t name names.”