“The acquisition cycle has been extended to mitigate risk,” Marine Corps Commandant James F. Amos told a packed house at the Brookings Institution this morning, charging that the Pentagon has handed off too much responsibility to industry in program management.
Amos brought up the example of the SR-71 Blackbird spy plane, which went from blueprint to operational flight in just 18 months, and the MRAP program, which started cranking pretty quickly starting in 2006, as examples of what can happen when the Pentagon and industry really decide that there is an urgent need for a technology.
“The service chiefs need to reclaim ownership of these major programs” Amos added, telling the crowd that when it comes to the F-35B Joint Strike Fighter, he has taken a personal role in its development—so much so that no one can “put a pound of weight on that airplane without me knowing about it.” Speaking of the F-35B, Amos also argued that once the Marine Harrier fleet is retired due to old age, without the F-35B the United States would effectively go from twenty-two Capital ships to just eleven, since it would mean that the nation’s eleven amphibious ships which currently carry Harriers would be taken out of the Marine fighter plane business.
The Commandant also touched on a few other programs, calling the V-22 Osprey “the safest airplane in the Marine Corps inventory,” which, amazing Libyan rescue operation aside, might not be as significant as it might first appear, since the Osprey isn’t involved in day-to-day combat operations.
Still, Amos’ comments about the acquisition process are important, since he also said that he is “more concerned now than I ever have been before” about budgetary issues. His solution for the acquisition community in the Pentagon is to firmly establish requirements and make trades between cost and capability up front, and for the service chiefs to take more of an active, hands-on role in the progress of major programs so schedule and budget slips ups don’t come as a surprise. Or better yet, they are anticipated at the outset of the program, and avoided.