Army Aims for Agile Acquisition
The U.S. Army, including the various program executive officers (PEOs), are taking a variety of steps to apply the service’s digital transformation strategy to acquisition processes. Agile acquisition will ultimately allow the service to deliver better capabilities to soldiers more rapidly, multiple PEOs indicated while serving on a panel on the first day of the AFCEA TechNet Augusta conference, held in Augusta, Georgia, August 15-17.
Jennifer Swanson, deputy assistant secretary of the Army (data, engineering and software), kicked off the panel by noting modern Army systems are largely software enabled, making continuous integration/continuous delivery (CICD) practices a must.
“Software drives all of our systems. I can’t think of a system in the field or in the enterprise that isn’t driven by software,” she said. “Being able to get to CICD is absolutely critical so that we can keep the systems updated and enable overmatch that way because we don’t know what our near-peer adversaries are going to bring to the table.”
She added that CICD is an Army-wide effort, and that the service is overhauling its requirements processes. “From a requirements perspective, we’re going to get high-level requirements documents, not, like, really 600-page monolithic, bigger requirements documents,” she said, adding that Army Futures Command and Army Forces Command will then refine the requirements.
Additionally, since software is always being updated, it will no longer transition to Army Material Command for sustainment, as most systems do once they’ve completed fielding and are simply being maintained for readiness. “If we’re going to continue adding capability, we need to have the lifecycle manager under the [program manager]. That is a big deal,” she said.
Furthermore, all requests for proposals now require evaluation of the company’s agility, not just an evaluation of the solution itself. “That is critical. We can get shiny objects, but if we cannot maintain and keep those shiny objects updated with new requirements as those requirements evolve, then we’re not really doing agile development,” she declared.
Swanson touted the benefits of the data mesh, which the service started building in May. The Army needs a data mesh for multiple reasons, she said, but she highlighted two. “One, we wanted a distributed architecture, not an aggregated architecture because we’re the Army, so we don’t have the network to have these massive data lakes that are replicating and pushing data everywhere. We will crush the network,” she said. “We need another way, and the data mesh is a distributed architecture that will allow us to have nodes in different places where we need them.”
Additionally, a data mesh will foster great industry competition. “Number two, eliminating vendor lock. We want competition. We want to open up the options to any solution that industry can bring that is compliant,” she said.
“We started building what is now known as the Unified Data Reference Architecture (UDRA) last year, and we told you guys it would be done by the end of this fiscal year, and we will be done by the end of this fiscal year with that architecture,” Swanson asserted. “At the end of the day, this architecture is going to be required in our [requests for proposals], and we want to make sure industry can comply.”
The third and final request for information on the UDRA will be released August 30 and will include updates to previous requests for information. The Army also will host an industry day the first week of October with the exact dates to be determined.
Industry should expect hybrid cloud computing capabilities to be a central element of the UDRA, Saunders indicated. Because the service will not always be connected, the Army will need hybrid cloud on the premises to provide some capabilities in disconnected tactical environments.
The UDRA will enable “true data centricity for the Army,” she said, adding that in 2024 requests for proposals will include the requirement, assuming the Army successfully completes verification and implementation.
Ross Guckert, program executive officer enterprise information systems, said that his organization is seeing signs across the board on how the “transformation to agile” is truly taking effect. “We’ve been holding monthly offsites with my leadership. We’re looking at everything from contracting, establishing an agile center of excellence within the headquarters, cost estimating, upscaling, and redefining how we use and define our tech services.”
Technical services also will make greater use of data science and analytics to spot trends and will use new tools with real-time data sources during reviews. The PEO for enterprise information systems will begin “robust technical reviews ensuring that we have an open modern architecture, code that’s stable and data that’s stable and high quality” and is delivering “the cyber tools to keep up with the emerging threats” and is planning to make use of a digital contracting center of excellence.
“We’re excited about the digital contracting center of excellence that’s being stood up at Aberdeen Proving Ground … defining what an agile contracting package looks like, contract type, deliverable, payment structure, making sure we’re paying for value, and the delivery of capability and how we leverage modular contracting,” Guckert said.
The digital contracting center of excellence is developing “playbooks” that “will not be used just at Aberdeen but across the contracting command enterprise,” he added.
We can get shiny objects, but if we cannot maintain and keep those shiny objects updated with new requirements as those requirements evolve, then we’re not really doing agile development.
Guckert’s team is also assessing acquisition lead times. “We know that the current lead times we’re seeing with some of these contracts are just untenable,” he announced. He added that all of his program managers are “organizing around agile” and adding a number of new leaders, including a deputy PEO, assistant PEO and chief information officer.
He listed several “success stories that are just piling up,” including the release last month of a minimally viable product for the Army Contract Writing System, and the likelihood the Ignite program will achieve full operational capability next month. Also, Enterprise Business System-Convergence prototypical contracts were awarded the same day as the panel presentation. “I’ve been saying that by December, we’ll look like a completely different organization, and things are certainly shaping up to look that way,” Guckert said.
Brig. Gen. Wayne “Ed” Barker, USA, PEO-Intelligence, Electronic Warfare and Sensors, reported that several of his programs “have either directly or implied” artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) requirements.
Inspired by the success of the TITAN program, a new ground system that will use AI/ML to help automate processes and reduce the time needed to identify and engage threats, the program executive office initiated a project known as Linchpin, which is designed to use AI and ML to synchronize and integrate intelligence, cyber, situational awareness, situational understanding and electronic warfare sensor systems.
“We had an opportunity with TITAN, and we looked at it as an opportunity to build out an AI/ML pipeline that could support everything from targeting to situational awareness and situational understanding, all from an MDO [multidomain operations] standpoint,” Gen. Barker said. “Ideally, if successful, the model could also be used by other PEOs.
He reported that the effort is “moving incredibly fast” and could become a full-fledged program by the end of this calendar year, even though the Army had planned to do that in the 2026 fiscal year.