Defense acquisition is in “uncharted territory” as the world reacts to the COVID-19 coronavirus, and yet little disruption entered Air Force acquisition programs due to innovative efforts to work around new travel and work restrictions, the service’s acquisition leader said March 23.
“As we complete our first week of response, our teams navigated potential work stoppages, changing local and state directives, halted supply chains, and gearing up to support any national Defense Production Act requirements,” said Will Roper, assistant secretary of the Air Force for acquisition, technology and logistics, in a Monday statement.
“I am amazed how little disruption entered our programs despite all the disruption around them,” he continued. “That speaks to how creative and capable our people truly are. Ongoing dialogues—including those with other Departments and industry leaders—are focused on further empowering the field, providing additional resources, and managing cost and schedule impacts flexibly.”
Roper added that near- and far-term impacts of the novel coronavirus are evolving “daily,” and that his office’s top priority is the safety and well-being of all personnel, families and industry partners. Service leaders have expended communication channels to ensure workloads and manageable, keep up with updates from health officials and maintain team check-ins. Personnel have been restricted to mission-essential meetings and travel, however, “our adversaries must know our military is ready—today and tomorrow—should our nation call upon it,” he said.
Last week, Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David Goldfein said the service’s next Advanced Battle Management System (ABMS) demonstration would be delayed from April to June. Roper said Monday that in the meantime, the service is leveraging some of the multi-level connection technology it was developing in the ABMS program to improve communication across its distributed remote workforce.
He also referenced the recent Virtual Collider and Pitch Bowl events, which were originally to be held at the annual South by Southwest festival in Austin. When the festival was canceled due to concerns related to the coronavirus pandemic, the Air Force pivoted from a months-planned, multi-day small business tech event to an online virtual event.
“With less than 72 hours to pivot, the AFVentures team hosted over 5,000 people from across the U.S. … keeping our Air and Space Force commitment to small businesses and tech startups,” and was the single largest small business award in government history, with nearly $1 billion awarded, Roper said.
“I have the utmost confidence that our Air Force and Space Force acquisition teams will get through this unprecedented time and be a stronger Department for it,” he added.