A key lawmaker believes the Defense Department can reduce its current 15-to-20 year procurement process to three-to-five years by the time the current House Armed Services Committee (HASC) chairman leaves his post.

House Armed Services (HASC) Strategic Forces Subcommittee Chairman Michael Rogers (R-Ala.) on Wednesday cited the private sector as proof DoD can shrink its procurement timetable, though he didn’t provide specifics. Rogers said he believes DoD will have an accelerated procurement process by the time current HASC Chairman Mac Thornberry (R-Texas) leaves his post as Thornberry has taken up acquisition reform as one of his chief causes while the head of house defense authorizers. The last four HASC chairmen have served an average of four years in the position.

NASA engineers successfully test the Russian-built RD-180 in 1998 at the Marshall Space Flight Center (MSFC) in Huntsville, Ala. Photo: NASA.
NASA engineers successfully test the Russian-built RD-180 in 1998 at the Marshall Space Flight Center (MSFC) in Huntsville, Ala. Photo: NASA.

“It doesn’t matter if you’re talking about the (Long Range Strike) Bomber, the F-35 or the Future Combat System,” Rogers told an audience at a Peter Huessy breakfast series event on Capitol Hill. “DoD has this 15- and 20- year procurement process and they wind up never getting anything done.”

Rogers cited the Air Force’s new, and classified, Long Range Strike Bomber (LRSB) as a “pertinent example” of the need for acquisition reform, calling the Air Force’s progress with the aircraft “real slow.” The Air Force could soon announce the winner of the LRSB’s high-stakes contract award to either B-2 bomber incumbent Northrop Grumman [NOC] or the Boeing [BA]-Lockheed Martin [LMT] team. The Government Accountability Office (GAO) has estimated the F-35 program to have a $1 trillion lifecycle cost while the Future Combat System (FCS), a terminated Army effort to revamp its ground vehicles, has been held as an example of an inefficient and wasteful DoD acquisition process.

Retired Air Force Lt. Gen. David Deptula believes one way of reducing DoD’s acquisition timeline to three-to-five years is acquiring more systems in a classified manner, allowing for quicker decision making as opposed to the established acquisition system, which he called “a very intensive, bureaucratic, regulation-driven process.”

Deptula, in a phone interview, cited development of the Lockheed Martin [LMT]-developed F-117, which was created in the 1970s to fill a requirement for attacking high value targets without being detected by enemy radar, as going from initial design to first flight in less than five years. Air Force spokeswoman Vicki Stein said since its retirement from active flying status in 2008, the Air Force’s cadre of F-117 Nighthawks have been maintained at their original, climate-friendly hangars at the Tonopah Test Range Airport in Nevada.

Stein said given the cost of establishing secure storage facilities at Aircraft Maintenance and Regeneration Center (AMARC) at Davis-Monthan AFB, Ariz., the Air Force chose instead to store the retired F-117s at the pre-existing secure facilities at Tonopah Test Range.

Per Congressional direction within the FY07 National Defense Authorization Act the aircraft were placed in Type 1000, flyable storage for potential recall to future service.  In order to confirm the effectiveness of the flyable storage program, some F-117 aircraft are occasionally flown.

Rogers also gave an update on the fiscal year 2016 defense authorization bill process, saying that House conference members met Tuesday and were to meet with Senate conference participants Wednesday. Rogers said the various subcommittee chairs will be meeting with counterparts on the Senate side through Thursday evening with the goal of delivering a final product to the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) and the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) by the end of the week. Rogers said he hopes the House will be able to have floor action on the bill early next week.

Rogers said the RD-180 difference between the House and Senate bills could hold up a swift conference process but he’s “optimistic” this will be resolved. He said the House’s version of the defense authorization bill allows for the Air Force to procure an additional 15 Russian-made RD-180s. The Senate’s version allows for nine. Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC) Chairman John McCain (R-Ariz.) is expected to hold a harder line in conference over use of additional RD-180s and has been very vocal about getting the United States off the RD-180 by 2019, as legislated in the FY ’15 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA).

Rogers said he’s open to DoD using the national security waiver found in Section 1608 of the FY ’15 NDAA, though it doesn’t require congressional approval. The waiver allows DoD to procure additional Russian-developed rocket engines if it certifies to congressional defense committees that launch services couldn’t be obtained at a fair and reasonable price without Russian designed or manufactured engines and that it is necessary for U.S. national security interests (Defense Daily, June 23).