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USAF leaders met with various members of industry to discuss a smarter approach to acquisition during the West Coast Aerospace Forum in California. Here, USAF acquisition chief Lt. Gen. Arnold Bunch speaks at an AFA breakfast in 2015. Air Force photo by SrA. Hailey Haux.

​Commanders must delegate to their staffs and provide assistance when required if they are to be successful, said Space and Missile Systems Center commander Lt. Gen. John Thompson, during a recent West Coast Aerospace Forum in California.  

Leadership also means giving staffs the confidence to lean forward in a smart fashion and own the consequences, said Thompson. He emphasized that years’ worth of reacting to acquisition missteps have yielded a set of statutes, Air Force policies, and self-imposed practices that are incredibly duplicative and burdensome. The time has come to stop adding new regulations, and instead seek opportunities to streamline and reduce Air Force-controlled regulatory areas to better empower prudent decision making focused on smart outcomes.  

Speaking at the same forum, which was hosted in part by AFA’s Mitchell Institute, Lt. Gen. Arnold Bunch, military deputy of the assistant secretary of the Air Force for acquisition, highlighted that improvements in acquisition speed also demand increased reliance on open mission systems, something that will allow faster regression and cyber testing.

When asked about successes the Rapid Capabilities Office has had advancing programs, Director Randall Walden explained that he thinks empowering team leaders, leveraging models that date back decades to places like Kelly Johnson’s Skunk Works as well as models used in the early days of the space race, and harnessing existing authorities to their fullest extent can yield enhanced outcomes.  

The Department of Defense must realize that new industry talent they seek to harness in small and start-up firms will not succeed in the legacy system, said DIUx’s Raj Shah. It is too hard to navigate, and finding a point of entry within the Pentagon is exceedingly difficult—all of this done with the financial clock ticking for firms who do not have sufficient fiscal resources to move at the government’s slow pace.

A program delay lasting a few months can literally put some incredibly talented firms out of business.