Army’s Integrated Air and Missile Defense and Acquisition Reform
Defense policy leaders both in Congress and the Department of Defense have come to recognize that the existing acquisition process is too complicated and cumbersome. With new threats on the horizon and a new Administration committed to devoting more resources to critical defense capabilities, now is the time for lawmakers to do something about it.
The House Armed Services Committee’s June 26 summary description of its annual defense spending authorization bill rightly addressed the challenge of obstinate acquisition system rules head-on. The bill states, “The Chairman’s proposal includes provisions intended to commence a longer-term effort to remove unnecessarily prescriptive requirements from U.S. Code, which create a culture of compliance within the acquisition community, rather than empowering smart, agile decision-making.”
Secretary of the Air Force Heather Wilson, in recent comments picked up by the press, put the concerns about the government’s acquisition process more bluntly:
Now, we all still want to drive on the right side of the street and so on, but some of these things are not only not written in the English language, but if something goes wrong we’re going to say, ‘Oh, you didn’t follow Air Force instruction 210-dash-2.1, subparagraph X, and we’re going to hold you accountable.’ It’s like, are you kidding me? And you know, there’s a whole bookshelf of these.
The point being made here by both the Chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, Rep. Mac Thornberry, and Secretary Wilson is that the military acquisition process needs to be much more flexible.
This is particularly the case regarding developing much-needed integrated “system of systems” approaches, particularly those that involve more than one Service. History has shown us that these programs do not fit well with the methodical step-by-step process enforced by existing acquisition rules—that is, advancing from research and development, to building a prototype, to testing the prototype, and only then proceeding to the procurement of dozens or hundreds of copies of armored vehicles, ships, or aircraft.
Defense Acquisition Reform and the AIAMD Program
A crucial Army undertaking aimed at better defeating enemy aircraft and missile attacks, known as Army Integrated Air and Missile Defense (AIAMD) program, demonstrates the need for acquisition reform. According to the Army, this new system of systems enterprise “calls for a restructuring of systems into components of sensors, weapons, and mission command (MC) with a standard set of interfaces among those components using a standardized set of networks to communicate.”
As part of the AIAMD program, the Army will establish a new architecture by developing the IAMD Battle Command System (IBCS) that provides the common mission command capability; the Integrated Fire Control Network capability to provide fire control connectivity and enabling distributed operations; and the Common Plug and Fight Interface Kits that will network-enable multiple sensor and weapon components.
When fully realized, the AIAMD program will permit commanders in the field to use detection and tracking information generated by one air or missile defense system to support different interceptors at will. Obtaining a fuller and clearer view of the battlespace is a capability that our Combatant Commanders in the field – as well as allied partners around the world – have long sought. Today, the Army is poised to make it a reality.
Nevertheless, the House and Senate Armed Services Committees have curiously recommended reducing funding for the program in their annual authorization bills, citing program delays and cost overruns. Accordingly, their two bills propose reduced funding for the IBCS portion of the program by $84.1 million and $200 million, respectively. In reality, perceived struggles are a result of the program not fitting neatly into the structure of the existing acquisition system that applies to the broad array of defense programs.
Acquisition Rules Can Damage Programs like AIAMD
Current acquisition rules do not fit well with a program like AIAMD at two levels. At the first level, the rules force the adoption of a management plan that is poorly suited to the program’s purposes and goals. At the second level, those rules can, and often do, lead to misleading negative assessments about a program being mismanaged. A key example of an integrated system of systems acquisition program that was unjustly criticized and ultimately terminated is the Brilliant Pebbles space-based missile defense interceptor program that was pursued by the George H.W. Bush Administration.
Part of the House Armed Services Committee’s proposed solution is to direct the Secretary of the Army to provide a briefing to the congressional defense committees on the status of the IBCS program, while also providing options for accelerating the program. The reality is that interrupting the program by the combination of funding reductions and briefing or reporting requirements will almost certainly lead to a much more expensive interim step of proliferating the number of sensor and interceptor platforms in the current standalone modes.
Two Important First Steps
A better approach for Congress to advance the AIAMD program is not to wait for a briefing, but to take two important steps now. The first step is to designate the program as a pilot project for demonstrating the advantages of a much more flexible acquisition process by granting it an exemption from standard acquisition rules and letting the program’s managers in the Army design an acquisition process tailored to advancing the program as quickly as possible. This can be done by the Senate adopting this kind of amendment to the defense authorization bill during floor action and maintaining it in the final version of the bill for presentation to the President.
The second step is to fully fund the AIAMD program at the President’s requested level of $336.4 million. The House Appropriations Committee, in the latest version of its annual spending bill, has wisely decided to do just that, and the Senate Appropriations Committee should take the same action.
Few doubt that the integration of air and missile defense battle command will provide enormous advantages to U.S. warfighters. The time has come for Congress to free AIAMD from cumbersome and inappropriate procedures and provide it the funds needed for success. Doing so is also likely to confirm that Congress is moving in the right direction regarding defense acquisition reform more generally.
Baker Spring is currently an independent defense and budget analyst in Arlington, Virginia. Previously, he was a Policy Analyst covering national security issues for The Heritage Foundation. He is not a paid consultant to any defense industry firms.