A legislative proposal delivered to Congress in April to allow the military departments to begin the early development phases of new programs even when Congress hasn’t approved a budget yet for a new fiscal year would allow up to $300 million in spending on these new development activities.

The proposal was first disclosed by Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall at the annual Space Symposium in Colorado where he said the rapid acquisition authorities would help the Defense Department more quickly respond to threats from China and limit the damage done when Congress hasn’t passed a federal budget at the start of the fiscal year and instead forces government to operate under a continuing resolution, which prevents DoD from beginning new programs (Defense Daily, April 19).

“If we want to be competitive with China, we can’t cede 2 years of schedule to them,” says a section-by-section analysis of the proposed authority included in the legislative proposal.

The package of legislative proposals that includes a proposed section entitled “Rapid Response To Emergent Technology Enhancements Or Threats” was sent to Congress on April 12 by Rheanne Wirkkala, assistant secretary of defense for legislative affairs. It says the new authority “will provide the Department the ability to assess and capitalize on emergent technology and outpace peer R&D advancements.”

The Defense Department has existing authority for rapid acquisition and deployment for urgent operational needs under Sec. 3601 of Title 10 of U.S. Code.  The section-by-section analysis says current authority “does not the same flexibility for the Military Departments to initiate not-yet programmed research and development activities.

The proposed authority would allow the services “to start development activities for up to $300 million dollars for advanced component development and prototypes and system development and demonstration activities up to a Preliminary Design Review level of maturity for a future program of record when the Service Secretary identifies a compelling national security need.”

A determination by a service secretary to okay the “start of initial development activities” to eventually get a fielded capability sooner must provide “a compelling national security need,” that “The effort cannot be delayed until the next submission of the budget of the President…without harming the national defense” and that “Funding is identified for the effort in the current fiscal year,” the legislative proposal says.

In Colorado last month, Kendall said that the general reaction from some of the leadership of the congressional defense committees has been very positive.