U.S. Air Force takes aim at high weapons costs, slow procurement

Reuters News
Posted: Jan 14, 2015 9:58 PM

By Andrea Shalal

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. Air Force Secretary Deborah James on Wednesday mapped out a series of initiatives aimed at lowering the cost of key weapons systems and getting them fielded sooner, saying that leaner budgets and growing threats made action imperative.

"We have to stop spending more and more to get less and less," James told an event hosted by the Atlantic Council, a nonprofit Washington think tank. "We are simply too slow in all that we do."

James said the initiatives are part of a broader push by the Air Force to be more flexible, adaptable and responsive.

The changes grew out of a series of dialogues James has held with top industry executives and outside experts since taking office about one year ago.

Ellen Lord, president and CEO of Textron Systems, a unit of Textron Inc, introduced James at the event and lauded the increased dialogue with the military service.

Lockheed Martin Corp, Boeing Co, and other Air Force suppliers are watching closely to see how the Air Force and Pentagon may change or streamline weapons development and purchases. Industry executives have long argued that complex rules add cost and slow work on weapons programs.

The Pentagon and the military services have focused heavily on improving acquisition processes in recent years as budget cuts have reduced funding available for new weapons programs. Congress is also pressing for reforms in the way the military buys weapons after years of cost overruns and schedule delays.

James said the Air Force initiatives included a drive to speed up contract awards in cases where there is only one bidder, a process that can take up to 17 months now.

She said the Air Force was also developing a process to examine the tradeoffs between cost and capabilities when starting new weapons programs, and would apply it to four new weapons competitions in coming years, including a high-profile program to build a new training aircraft.

The Air Force hoped to award a contract within weeks for a new, distributed common ground system used for intelligence gathering.

The Air Force is offering a $2 million prize to the company that comes up with the best proposal for a new mid-sized turbine engine, she told the event.

(Reporting by Andrea Shalal; Editing by Ken Wills)