The Pentagon’s top acquisition official said Wednesday the department is already seeing success with its new adaptive acquisition tools to help speed up procurement efforts, with potential new pathways in development to assist specific service efforts.

Ellen Lord, the under secretary of defense for acquisition and sustainment, also told reporters the new software acquisition pathway that went into effect last week “represents a substantial departure from the department’s usual way of doing business” and will allow for more iterative development processes.

Ellen M. Lord, undersecretary of defense for acquisition and sustainment, speaks with reporters at the Pentagon, Oct. 7, 2020. (DoD Photo by U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Jack Sanders)

Lord called the new Adaptive Acquisition Framework (AAF), included with the new DoD Directive 5000.01 procurement policy signed into effect last month “one of the most transformational changes to acquisition policy in decades.”

 “Whether responding to urgent needs or acquiring major capabilities or services, the AAF affords program managers and their teams multiple ways to field capability faster, which is what our job is,” Lord said.

The new framework is designed to move the acquisition process away from a slower, one-size-fits-all approach to one that encompasses multiple pathways allowing program managers to “tailor in” requirements and use new rules such as Middle-Tier Acquisition (MTA) authority to push out capabilities faster.

Lord cited the Army’s Integrated Visual Augmentation System, one of 74 programs using MTA authority, as a success in the new rule’s increased flexibility that will allow the service to rapidly field the capability in FY ‘21 after “conducting dozens of hardware prototypes and thousands of software builds through continuous iteration with soldiers.”

“Use of rapid prototyping and the new authorities afforded by the MTA pathway allowed the [IVAS] program to shave significant time from the schedule, streamline metrics to better inform decisions and reporting and provide greater flexibility to manage risk,” Lord said. 

DoD is also to create additional acquisition pathways, with Lord citing work with the Space Force on a potential tailored pathway and the Navy to help it meet the newly announced Battle Force 2045 plan.

“What we want to do is make sure that we give the Navy flexibility to be able to design contracts that incentivize the behavior from our industry partners that we need to deliver capability rapidly but compliantly with all of our requirements,” Lord said.

Defense Secretary Mark Esper on Tuesday detailed the Navy future fleet plan that calls for over 500 manned and unmanned ships by 2045, including more attack submarines, adding light aircraft carriers and fewer nuclear-powered carriers, and many unmanned vessels (Defense Daily, Oct. 7). 

Lord also noted the new software pathway delivered three months ahead of schedule and a year ahead of Congress’ original expectation, and “represents a substantial departure from the department’s usual way of doing business.”

“We must deliver and acquire software with greater speed, agility and cyber security,” Lord said. “The software pathway is designed to enable continuous integration and delivery of software capabilities. Recognizing that modern software development is a continuum from development to production to enduring sustainment, the pathway is built on commercial principles that enable innovation and swift delivery in response to conditions of uncertainty.”