Acquisition Innovation in the Department of Defense: Breaking the Logjam


2014-09-22 In our series looking back at the achievements of Secretary Wynne in DOD, we are highlighting key aspects of acquisition innovation.

We are both highlighting specific accomplishments, but highlighting more general lessons to be learned about how to foster innovation.

In this interview with “Raleigh” Durham, a veteran of the Pentagon acquisition “wars,” this senior acquisition official discusses the challenges of innovations and provides a specific case study of how Secretary Wynne’s insights, experience and vision aided and abetted the process.

In his interview, Durham highlighted Wynne’s role in breaking the logjam surrounding shaping a joint USN-USAF JUCAS program, and getting the program back on track.

Durham focused on several key elements in shaping innovation.

One has to start with the innovators themselves.

With regard to the UCAV effort, innovation started with “the pure innovators, a couple of bright folks working in Air Force advanced research.

As the process began, they focused on the task of neutralizing mobile SAMs deep in enemy territory.

They came up with the concept of a highly survivable unmanned combat aircraft along with the concept of cooperative autonomy in attacking the SAMs because the required level of survivability was difficult to achieve.”

According to Durham,

Air Force and DARPA ran cooperative autonomy tests simulating an attack on a mobile SAM with regard to X-45 before Mike Wynne came into the Department.

The UCAV was designed as a deep SAM killer.

If sent it in as part of a 3-ship wolf pack they knew how to autonomously, cooperate, develop time to target, and determine which UCAV would jam over the target, which would attack the target and which would cover retrograde or re-attack.

You did not need a lot of power to jam from the UCAV because of its proximity to the target, which is also why the F-35 will be a highly capable in-close EW capable platform as well.

Durham highlighted that the capability was evolving but could not find a program home within the services. OSD PAE had supported the UCAV program with funding but it needed a service home to fully develop the capabilities. And this is when Wynne entered the picture.

X-45A in flight with F-18 #846 chase aircraft, during first GPS-guided weapon demonstration flight April 18, 2004. Credit: NASA, 6/10/10
X-45A in flight with F-18 #846 chase aircraft, during first GPS-guided weapon demonstration flight April 18, 2004. Credit: NASA, 6/10/10 

Sec Def Rumsfeld decided to support the program but how do you get the program to the next step, shaping requirements for the services? Someone like Wynne was needed to see the promise of the innovation, assemble a team and press. There were many subjects worthy of Wynne’s touch and this is one of them.

“History will record that Mike Wynne became the guardian angel of highly survivable, fully autonomous unmanned combat air vehicles.”

Even though Durham was working at PA & E at the time, and Wynne was at A T & L, Wynne reached into the system to heist the program forward. The challenge was how to transfer the program to the services from DARPA.

“If it is going to live, it needs to be transferred to the services.”

A joint program office was set up between the USN and the USAF with a Navy captain initially in charge.

“We had been given money to provide for the joint program office, but we needed to know what they were going to do with the money. Wynne’s leadership at this point proved essential.”

The initial response from the office was less than enthusiastic and to ensure that the program did not deliver a combat capability too quickly, the office focused on the range issue and postured that without air refuelability, the UCAS as then conceived and operational, would not have the range to be useful.

The Joint Program Office focuses on putting their money up against the challenge of making the vehicle refuelable at the expense of anything else.

Development of the vehicle was to stop, until the challenge of refuelability was solved.

This position was conveyed at what Durham called the “high noon” meeting with regard to the program itself.

We were seated around a large table in the AT and L work area, and Marv Sambur (the AF Acquisition Executive at the time) was there with John Young, the Navy acquisition head, expected.

The JCS was there, the program manager, and senior officers and OSD officials.

The briefing officials did not provide us with pre-brief materials and had placed a brief on the table in front of the participants.

Durham then described Mike Wynne’s entrance into the room, providing his often-gregarious entrance to meeting participants. In front of him is a three-ring binder, an inch thick, which provides the brief which he now sees for the first time.

The briefer launches into his brief, and as he does so, Wynne is flipping through the briefing book.

Wynne stops the briefer and asks: let me get this straight: you guys are going to stop development of the vehicle while you spend our money trying to figure out how to do air refueling?

The briefer responded that Wynne was essential correct, and this was being done because air refueling was that important.

After further attempts to “correct” Wynne and explain while solving refueling was more important than evolving air vehicle and its systems, Wynne stands up to his full height, grabs the one-inch binder, now folder, and throws it down on the table and it moves along the table Frisbee style and bumps into one of the principals.

And Wynne states: Come back when you have something to say, and walks out of the room.

The story underscores the importance of not letting normal Departmental processes simply bury an innovation when it is more about processes than capabilities.

According to Durham:

Wynne functioned as a protector of innovation, and the lengths to which an innovator sometimes has to go to protect the effort and overcome the process.

Wynne certainly did that in many cases, and he also represents the kind of leadership one needs to ensure that innovation can succeed.

This was part of breaking the logjam to clear the way for the success of the AF/DARPA/Boeing team to develop and fly the X-45.

Editor’s Note: During the period discussed in this article, J.M. “Raleigh” Durham was working as Director Joint Advanced Concepts in AT&L.

Currently, he is the Director, PMO (Production Management Office) in December 2010. As the “Supply Chain Chief Operating Officer”, the Director of PMO provides Navy Total Force (NTF) wide visibility into the enlisted accession supply chain and develops, collects and displays standardized corporate level enlisted accession metrics.

As Director of Joint Advanced Concepts (Acquisition, Technology and Logistics (AT&L) he was the senior AT&L representative to the Joint Requirements Oversight Council (JROC) and had purview over a broad portfolio of defense programs with responsibility for identifying system-of-systems impacts on potential acquisition decisions.

“J-UCAS is a key transformational program within the Department of Defense’s portfolio. The capabilities offered by this family of systems can have profound implications on the Department’s future warfighting capability and force structure.” Mr. Michael W. Wynne, USD(AT&L) (Acting), 23 June 2003

This is the fifth part in the series. For the previous parts see the following: