Brent Scowcroft Center Resident Senior Fellow for Defense James Hasik writes for Real Clear Defense on the Department of Defense’s acquistion system and the future of the Joint Striike Fighter program:

The Lexington Institute’s Dan Gouré says that the much-ballyhooed Third Offset “will fail unless it first defeats the DoD’s acquisition system.” The department has again missed its goals for competing enough contracts. I myself have lamented how broken the acquisition system is. But as a retired Air Force general patiently countered to me last week, it may not be so broken as it once was. Perhaps, as outgoing Air Force acquisition chief Bill LaPlante told Breaking Defense in his last interview, “we used to suck, and now we don’t suck as much.” What’s his evidence? “Our net costs continue to come down,” he told National Defense; “I have all the data.” That’s encouraging, but addressing cost specifically does beg the question about how many ways one can suck, and what exactly constitutes not sucking.

Take the convenient target of the Joint Strike Fighter program. Three years ago, the always-balanced Winslow Wheeler called the JSF “the jet that ate the Pentagon.” Today, the USAF’s F-35As may still cost a lot, but they’re costing less, and projected to cost yet less. Just how much less is still debatable, but the rest of LaPlante’s data (and projections) are easy enough to imagine. The current actual costs and future expected costs of current programs are decreasing. The expected costs of future programs may also be decreasing. There may be many reasons for this relative success, but I can highlight two. Bureaucrats across the department have learned lessons about the challenges of concurrency in development and production, and of trying to bundle all that capability into a single plane or program.

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