WASHINGTON — President Trump announced Wednesday that he is nominating William Roper to be assistant secretary of the Air Force for acquisition. Since 2012 Roper has served as director of the Pentagon’s “strategic capabilities office,” an organization he created with then-Defense Secretary Ash Carter to advance efforts to inject innovative technology into the military.
If confirmed, Roper stands to bring a new perspective to Air Force big-ticket acquisitions, including space systems. As the leader of the SCO, Roper was known for contrarian views and for rejecting conventional approaches to weapons acquisitions. He criticized the Pentagon procurement bureaucracy for over-designing systems and building “exquisite” hardware instead of tapping less costly off-the-shelf commercial technology to update existing weapons.
Before joining the SCO, Roper was acting chief architect at the Missile Defense Agency and a national security analyst at the MIT Lincoln Laboratory.
How Roper might steer the Air Force to use more commercial technology will be closely watched by the space industry, a sector where privately funded innovation is booming. The Air Force has been criticized for not taking advantage of the available technology — in launch, satellites, software and other areas — and integrating it more quickly into military space systems.
Roper also has been an advocate of greater use of commercial software by the Defense Department.
Roper often noted that the world is changing rapidly due to the global spread of commercial technologies, and that the Pentagon has been slow to adjust to that reality.
When he took over the SCO, Roper sought to turn the procurement process upside down, so to speak. He worked to break down the traditional Defense Deparrtment stove-pipes and create a more horizontal organization that connected the Pentagon with the military services, overseas war commanders and agencies that in the past had not been given a voice in setting requirements.
The SCO’s budget of $902 million for 2017 was 36 percent for Navy projects, 24 percent for Air Force, 18 percent for Army, and 22 percent for other institutions.
One the mantras of the SCO was “repurposing systems for new missions.” Roper called for greater use of open standards and modular designs
The SCO, for example, took the Navy’s anti-ship Standard missile-6 that was developed in the early 2000s for air and missile defense and modified the software, giving the Navy the option of switch-hitting the 600 missiles between offense and defense. It reworked the Army’s tactical missile so it could be used against maritime targets. ·
Other projects Roper led include the “arsenal plane,” a concept to deploy resupply aircraft to increase the weapons capacity of Air Force fighters.
Roper has pushed for the Defense Department to become a fast adopter of external technology. “The commercial revolution in smart technologies is rapidly changing most facets of the world,” Roper told the Senate Armed Services Committee in 2016. “This revolution is taking the ordinary things in our lives — refrigerators, thermostats, phones — infusing them with compact sensors and processors; and wrapping them in high-speed networks and cloud based services. The net result is new, transformational applications, even though most of the underlying hardware — compressors, thermometers, and antennae — do not radically change.”
Though commercial products may not meet all traditional DoD requirements, Roper has cautioned, failure to quickly transition cutting-edge technology from the market into U.S. defense systems imperils national security.