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Speedier Acquisition Needed to Stay Competitive, Defense Official Says

By Lisa Ferdinando
DoD News, Defense Media Activity

The Defense Department needs to speed its acquisition processes and allow decisions at a lower level if it wants to stay competitive, the undersecretary of defense for research and engineering said today.

"The Chinese love our acquisition system, they are the biggest fans of our acquisition system that there could possibly be; they certainly don't want us to change it," Michael D. Griffin said here at the ninth Defense Programs conference, hosted by McAleese and Associates and Credit Suisse.

Griffin pointed out DoD takes about 16.5 years to go from statement of need to initial operating capability. The U.S. used to operate in the time frame that China now operates in -- two to three years, he said.

The Chinese are “pouring hundreds of billions of dollars into these enterprises,” Griffin said. China, he continued, is “setting about the task of becoming a global power and challenging our power, which has been largely uncontested for seven decades, since the end of World War II.”

Unless the United States acts, the undersecretary said, China will get its way.

Changing Landscape Demands Changes

What is slowing the processes for DoD, Griffin said, is the need to be perfect every time.

Replacing broken hardware is inexpensive, he said, explaining the greater costs come from all the time, the checks and balances, the analysis, and all of the work to ensure you never break a piece of hardware.

“This nation, for decades following World War II evinced a capability and an overwhelming superiority that simply deterred our primary adversary and prevented the growth and instantiation of any secondary or tertiary adversaries,” the undersecretary said.

To put it simply, Griffin said, the U.S. was on top, “So we could afford to take long periods of time to do things and spend a lot of money.”

After the collapse of the Soviet Union, the United States thought it would never have another adversary, he pointed out. That thinking contributed what he described as an “unhealthily lackadaisical state of mind.”

The recently released National Defense Strategy points out these false assumptions the U.S. has been making, the undersecretary said.

Speeding Up Processes

DoD needs to return to the point where decisions can be made at a lower level and processes move forward with speed, Griffin explained. Besides, if you are wrong, physics will let you know, he said.

The United States got to where it is through its technological superiority and being able to “bring stuff to the fight, to get stuff deployed [and] to do it in a rapid, robust fashion,” the undersecretary said.

The department can learn from mistakes instead of striving for perfection, Griffin said. DoD does get it right, it just takes an enormous amount of time and money to get to that point, he said.

“This is a country that knew how to do things quickly and reasonably well,” the undersecretary said.

(Follow Lisa Ferdinando on Twitter: @FerdinandoDoD)