NAVAIR Commander: ‘We Have to Become More Competitive’
By OTTO KREISHER, Seapower Correspondent
WASHINGTON — The rapid emergence of near-peer strategic competitors, particularly China, requires the Navy to dramatically change its acquisition process to get new technology to the warfighters faster, and to ensure that the new systems fill their capabilities gaps and on which they can train from day one, the commander of Naval Air Systems Command (NAVAIR) said Dec. 5.
“Competition is real, we must behave differently. Fundamental change is required. This is not nibbling around the edge,” said Vice Adm. Paul Grosklags.
Addressing a Society of Naval Engineers combat systems forum at the Washington Navy Yard, Grosklags said that when the Soviet Union collapsed the U.S. military had a strong technological advantage and no real competitor.
“It became OK to move slower,” he said. “We need to get out of that. … Competition is back.”
The admiral cited the rapid transition of the Chinese Navy from a small, backward coastal defense force to an expanding high-tech fleet challenging America on the high seas.
The Chinese Navy has modernized swiftly in 15 years because their acquisition system is faster, he said.
“We’re going to lose our technological advantage. … We have to become more competitive,” he said.
Responding to that threat, Grosklags said NAVAIR is focusing on getting its products to the fleet, and thinking less about the process.
“I believe we need to do a much better job in our acquisition system, to begin with thinking of the end in mind,” which is “what does the warfighter want from a new system,” he said.
The warfighters want to know that the systems will work, that they have been adequately tested, that they will fill their capabilities gaps and that they are interoperable with other systems, he said.
NAVAIR does not build for capabilities, “we build systems.” As a result, “we lose that interoperability,” he said.
The warfighters also want “to be able to train with that system from day one,” but NAVAIR frequently tells them “the training systems are just not quite ready,” and may give them only 10 percent of the required training capabilities.
“Sometimes, we never catch up,” he said, adding that “we’re still having trouble with FA-18 training on NIFC-CA,” referring to Navy Integrated Fire Control-Counter-Air.
To correct those problems, Grosklags said NAVAIR is changing to what it calls capabilities-based acquisition, to produce systems that “are more useful to them on day one.”
That process starts with “integrated warfare analysis” that begins with setting down with the warfighters to ask what capabilities gaps they need to fill and how a proposed system would fit in with their concepts of operations (conops), he said.
“It may be a great system, but if doesn’t fit in with their conops it could be useless,” he said.
Other steps NAVAIR is taking to make its acquisition process faster, more useful to the warfighters and cheaper include developing a digital modeling base of a proposed system, which allows it to determine if the system will meet the stated requirements, adds in making corrections and gives industry a better starting point.
Industry already is doing that for its commercial customers and has found it contributes to “a 40 percent decrease in program time,” Grosklags said.
NAVAIR has started the model-based process with the MQ-25 unmanned refueling aircraft, he said. So when they award a contract for production, “we can hand them a digital model.”
In a later presentation, Rear Adm. William Galinis, program executive officer for ships, said they are making similar changes to accelerate and reduce acquisition costs at Naval Sea Systems Command.
In a panel on detection to engagement, a group of sensor and weapons sponsors described the efforts they are making to help the surface fleet cope with the growing threat of threats from potential adversaries, including extending detection range, developing more effective layered defenses and providing greater fusion and sharing of sensor data.
As part of that panel, Michael Rooney from the Defense Threat Reduction Agency brought up the seldom discussed threat from an intensive electromagnetic pulse (EMP) set off by a high-altitude nuclear explosion, which can disable electronic systems. Rooney said the Navy has not tested the EMP effect on a surface ship since the end of the Cold War and retired the only system they had to simulate an EMP.