The Pentagon’s outgoing acquisition czar, Frank Kendall, said Tuesday he’s nervous about a trend toward rapid acquisition, which he called high risk and low quality.
Kendall said an example of this is the Mine Resistant Ambush Protected (MRAP) vehicle program. He said the vehicles, first deployed in Iraq, were built with a relatively simple design put together with a lot of armor. The problem, Kendall said, was that they were not well suited for the terrain in Afghanistan. Due to that, he said the Pentagon was forced to procure thousands of more vehicles through the MRAP all-terrain vehicle (ATV) program, which had a more dynamic suspension and a smaller vehicle more suitable for the terrain.
Kendall contrasted these programs with the Joint Light Tactical Vehicle (JLTV) program, which he called a longer, more traditional program where the Pentagon thought very carefully about the requirements. He said the Pentagon performed a strong competition and took its time to get prototypes and perform testing and award a best value contract, where it rewarded companies for providing features it wanted.
Kendall said some features sacrificed under rapid acquisition programs include cyber security, reliability and maintainability, among a “long list” of others.
“Those are the things that our operators want, but they take more time and they take more detailed designs and more testing,” Kendall told an audience at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) think tank in Washington. “So that’s sort of the normal acquisition process to get you that quality vehicle.”
Kendall called the Air Force’s procurement of the RQ-4 Global Hawk unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) a product of rapid acquisition, which he said gets the Defense Department something that is not very reliable, but may do some things it really cares about. For Global Hawk, Kendall said the Pentagon bought products that did technology demonstrations and liked the features of those tech demonstrators, so it bought more of them. Kendall said other examples of this rapid acquisition approach were the Redesigned Kill Vehicle (RKV) and Multi-Object Kill Vehicle (MOKV) missile defense programs.
Kendall said what happens with rapid acquisition, especially in the Global Hawk case, is that DoD wakes up and realizes that it has an unreliable system that has to be fixed. He said Global Hawk was almost canceled because sustainment costs were so “astronomical” that it determined it was better to keep the 1950s-era U-2 spy plane while working to fix Global Hawk. Kendall credited Global Hawk prime contractor Northrop Grumman [NOC] for getting sustainment costs under control.
Kendall leaves office when President-elect Donald Trump is inaugurated on Friday.