Can Better Buying Power 3.0 preserve America's tech edge?

Frank Kendall

Undersecretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics Frank Kendall (shown here) and Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel both argued on Sept. 3 that defense acquisition reform has strategic implications in addition to budgetary ones.

The next phase of the Pentagon's attempt to improve how it buys both weapons and IT will focus on shoring up what senior Defense Department officials say is an increasingly tenuous American lead in technological know-how.

The latest acquisition reform program, which a DOD spokeswoman said could be unveiled as early as Sept. 12, will focus on getting proven technology in the hands of soldiers faster, said Undersecretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics Frank Kendall.

Whereas Better Buying Power 1.0 and 2.0 centered on business practices and decision-making, respectively, version three will "get us back to our products and what we're actually trying to deliver to the warfighters," Kendall said in a Sept. 3 speech at the National Press Club. "It's going to be about innovation; it's going to be about technical excellence." An engineer by training, Kendall said he would relish the turn to a more technical phase of acquisition reform.

Kendall's preview of Better Buying Power 3.0 came with an underlying sense of urgency to implement it. "I am deeply concerned about the fact that we are at risk of losing our technological superiority in certain areas of warfare," he said, adding that the defense modernization programs of Russia and China are designed to curtail America's military edge.

A few hours later, and a few hundred miles to the northeast, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel echoed that concern for the department's foothold in innovation. If Washington does not address challenges like the asymmetry of cyberspace and the intent of Russia and China to counter America's ability to project power, the U.S. military could find itself "in a future combat theater facing an arsenal of advanced, disruptive technologies that thwart our technological advantages…" Hagel told the Southeastern New England Defense Industry Alliance, in Newport, R.I.

BBP 3.0 differs from other iterations of acquisition guidance, Hagel said, in featuring "more use of modular and open systems architectures; providing industry with draft requirements earlier; removing obstacles to procuring commercial items; and, improving our technology search and outreach in global markets."

The Pentagon has made the geopolitical stakes of acquisition clear before, charging in an annual report to Congress that China had stolen U.S. intellectual property related to "key national security technologies."

About the Author

Sean Lyngaas is an FCW staff writer covering defense, cybersecurity and intelligence issues. Prior to joining FCW, he was a reporter and editor at Smart Grid Today, where he covered everything from cyber vulnerabilities in the U.S. electric grid to the national energy policies of Britain and Mexico. His reporting on a range of global issues has appeared in publications such as The Atlantic, The Economist, The Washington Diplomat and The Washington Post.

Lyngaas is an active member of the National Press Club, where he served as chairman of the Young Members Committee. He earned his M.A. in international affairs from The Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University, and his B.A. in public policy from Duke University.

Click here for previous articles by Lyngaas, or connect with him on Twitter: @snlyngaas.

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