The Pentagon’s acquisition chief has directed the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) lead an effort to design a high performance aircraft that would lead to a working prototype to help preserve key industrial base capacities around design, given that no new major aircraft development programs are being planned.

“But the bottom line is given no new designs, no major development programs in a certain commodity area, we really need to do something in some cases to preserve our design teams which once they’ve gone away are very hard to bring back,” Frank Kendall, under secretary of defense for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics, said yesterday at an investor conference hosted by Credit Suisse. The initial lane for this effort is high performance aircraft and Kendall said it will likely begin with a concept definition and the go to “something like an X-plane program.”

Kendall said he recently sent a letter to the military services asking them to take part in this prototyping effort.

Kendall also said that an attack helicopter design prototype is also a possibility given that it has been years since a design and development effort has been undertaken in this area. However, this may be a year or two away, he said.

The benefits of sponsoring these design efforts include making advances in technology, helping to reduce the lead time to a the next product, the preservation of industrial base capacity around design, particularly for integrated designs, and then the production of a prototype “to make sure it does what it’s intended to do,” he said. “Which is a huge source of confidence for people out there.”

Regarding the defense industrial base and pressure on it as budgets flatten and possibly decline, Kendall said the Pentagon’s remains “reluctant to look favorably on mergers at the top level” of the industry. That said, in general though, the Pentagon wants market forces to rule, he said.

“Market forces are the best way to make adjustments in the industrial base,” Kendall said.

He said the Pentagon is keeping closer tabs than ever on the defense market but added that it has a limited capacity to intervene. Still, the Pentagon will work to preserve competition within the industry and key capabilities, he said.

Kendall reviewed key aspects of a presentation he gave earlier this month on a preliminary update to the way the Pentagon is changing how it buys products and services from industry, an initiative known as Better Buying Power 2.0 (Defense Daily, Nov. 15).

President Obama’s re-election gives Kendall the opportunity to remain in his position for the next several years, which will provide management stability that will help provide enforcement of the ongoing and new BBP initiatives, he said.

Some of the new initiatives include designing exportability early into programs, which will reduce the costs and improve the speed for when industry sells products to foreign governments, Kendall said.

He also said the acquisition community needs to better understand what “best value” means when it seeks bids for programs and then communicate that meaning to industry. There needs to be ways to “monetize” differences in value so that buyers and suppliers can better quantify the tradeoffs between performance and cost, which will enable industry to bid “more smartly.”

Kendall also doesn’t believe that a budget sequestration will occur next year. However, he said there may end up being a “temporary postponement” of sequestration until the Obama administration and Congress can resolve their differences early next year.