In a parting letter on Jan. 19, U.S. Air Force acquisition chief Will Roper urged the service to sustain a risk-taking approach toward advanced technologies to put the U.S. first in its competition with China.

“Strides in agile software, rapid prototyping, digital engineering, internet-like interconnectivity, artificial intelligence, commercial technology and private investment, sustainment innovation–and even correcting a few genetic defects like dependence on Russian rockets and the KC-46 tanker–are just a few examples of how fast and agile you can be in an ecosystem bigger than conventional defense procurement,” he wrote. “Celerity and agility are greater weapons, and more to be feared in future militaries, than any system they could build.”

Roper was to sign an acquisition strategy for the Advanced Battle Management System (ABMS) before he left the Pentagon, but the Air Force acquisition office did not respond to a query on Jan. 20 on whether he had done so.

ABMS is the planned Air Force component of Joint All-Domain Command and Control (JADC2), a DoD effort to build a cross-service digital architecture for multi-domain operations–in effect, a military Internet of Things with machine-to-machine interfaces.

The Air Force has requested $3.3 billion for ABMS over five years, but Congress has had concerns about the lack of requirements, a well-defined ABMS acquisition strategy and program cost estimates. Last November, Roper signed a memorandum designating the Air Force Rapid Capabilities Office (RCO) as the program executive office (PEO) for ABMS and said that the service would, in consultation with Air Force Chief Architect Preston Dunlap, submit an acquisition strategy for ABMS by the end of February (Defense Daily, Nov. 24, 2020).

As Air Force acquisition chief since February 2018, Roper has been a proponent of a number of initiatives, including digital engineering/AI and the incorporation of digital engineering into the Next Generation Air Dominance fighter, ABMS, National Security Space Launch (NSSL)–an effort begun in 2015 to end reliance on Russian RD-180 launch vehicles, the Digital Century Series of aircraft, the Skyborg Vanguard drone program, and hypersonics.

Darlene Costello, who has been principal deputy assistant secretary of the Air Force for acquisition, technology and logistics since 2016, will step in as acting acquisition chief until the Senate approves a nominee by the administration of President Joe Biden.

On the whole, Air Force and U.S. Space Force research and development and procurement programs may fare comparatively well, as the new administration examines defense programs for potential cuts. Biden’s national security team has spoken of the need to compete against China–a competition that the Air Force inventory is better suited to meet than the U.S. Army.

Two programs that could be on the chopping block, however, for the new administration are the B-21 Raider by Northrop Grumman [NOC] and the Northrop Grumman Ground Based Strategic Deterrrent (GBSD) to replace the 450 Boeing [BA] Minuteman III ICBMs, per the Center for Defense Information at the Project on Government Oversight. Two B-21s are under construction in Palmdale, Calif.