WASHINGTON: Air Force acquisition head Will Roper says DoD needs to develop a new supply chain strategy that incentivizes industry to build a more diverse, responsive and resilient supply chain.

“What I hope sticks on the other side of COVID-19 is a strategic focus on the supply chain,” he told a webinar co-sponsored by Government Matters and the Farnborough International Association today, on the even of the virtual air show. “Government has to have a strategy. We have to explain to industry what we consider good supply chain management practices to be, and not to be. And we need to write that in plain English, which the government has a tough time doing frequently.”

That strategy also has to be followed up with incentives for industry to do the right thing, he said. “We have to put our money where our mouth is,” Roper said.

For example, he said, it should include incentivizing contractors, big and small, to use digital manufacturing technologies that allow companies to quickly pivot to different missions in times of need.

“That’s a strategic capability for the nation. We need to encourage that,” he said.

Roper noted that the Air Force is attempting to do just that with its centerpiece Advanced Battle Management Program (ABMS), being designed as a technology foundation for running future all-domain wars via the Joint All-Domain Command and Control System (JADC2).

“We’ve got a pretty cool program called the Advanced Battle Management System. It’s not a cool name — it’s kind of like Castle Anthrax in Monty Python: ‘it’s not a good name but it’s the one we’ve got’,” he joked. “That’s a program where adaptability is king.”

He explained that the service is working with industry to both explain, and reward, technology initiatives that will give operators the ability to rapidly upgrade or switch out old capabilities for new ones. As Breaking D readers knows, ABMS is attempting to iterate technologies developed under the program on a four-month cycle.

Roper said the first three weeks of the COVID-19 crisis threw DoD into a maelstrom as acquisition authorities tried to cope with the potential of supplier collapse. “We were in a very frenzied state,” he said.

The Air Force is the executive agent for all DoD use of Defense Production Act Title III contracts to support industry suffering from the coronavirus pandemic. However, the Defense Industrial Base Sector Coordinating Council under the Office of the Secretary of Defense (OSD) actually chooses which companies to support based on service requests — including for the Air Force.

While Roper sees ongoing problems from COVID-19 impacts on suppliers, especially small firms for whom cash-flow is highly important, he said that the Air Force and DoD are in a much better place now to handle them as they arise.

This is in part because leaders have a better grasp on what companies are likely to be at risk, Roper explained. “Now, we know who those critical suppliers are we have insight into our supply chain that we have ever had,” he said.

For example, the small launch industry is one sector that Roper continues to keep a close eye on.

“Small launch is still a big need for our industrial base for the Space Force and we want to try to try to do whatever we can to keep that market healthy,” he told reporters on July 14.

Roper expressed some disappointment about OSD’s July 1 decision to rescind a June-announced award of $116 million for six small launch companies: Aevum, Astra, X-Bow, Rocket Lab, Space Vector and VOX Space. He explained that OSD determined there “were some additional small business needs” that came up, because the small launch package was one of the last DPA approved actions, it was “the first to be put back in the batter’s box.”

“My hope is that whenever there’s new Title III funding, or when resources free up due to other efforts not executing as planned, that those are the first to go back into the hopper. If I were asked today to put in one new Title III initiative, it’s small launch,” he added.

As Paul reported, Pentagon acquisition chief Ellen Lord on June 22 said she is seeking approval for a funding package request in the “lower double digit billions” from the White House to cover COVID-19 related costs, including paying for industry claims of supply chain and workforce reductions.

And a group of CEOs from major defense primes, in a letter obtained by Breaking D, are asking for DoD help in seeking yet more COVID-19 stimulus funds from Congress.