On his last day in office, U.S. Air Force Secretary Michael Wynne said the service needs to rethink its procurement strategies – in space and other systems – and perhaps make them less complicated.
“We’ve got to get away from the ‘BattlestarGalacticas‘ and we’ve got to go back to simpler mission satellites,” Wynne said.
One way to do that is
to take advantage of opportunities to put military payloads aboard commercial satellites, a concept known as hosted payloads, Wynne said.
“The commercial people have payloads, they have power supplies, they have a lot of stuff that we should piggyback onto,” Wynne
said June 20 during a roundtable discussion in his office with a group of reporters.
Air Force has finally come to recognize that not all of its communications have to be highly secure,
Wynne said, citing the oft-quoted figure that 80 percent of the military’s satellite communications traffic during operations in Iraq and Afghanistan has been
. “Some would say ‘gee, we should have put up more [Defense Satellite Communications System] satellites; we should have put up more government payloads.’ I say ‘no.’ In fact, I’m pushing the system so hard, I would love to get out of the ground station business. We can’t get out of the ground station business, but I would love to have the trend go there so that the commercial satellite providers run the ground stations for their commercial satellites and we piggyback.”
In the wake of the U.S. Government Accountability Office’s recommendation June 18 that the Air Force reconsider
its decision to award an aircraft refueling tanker contract to a Northrop Grumman-EADS team, Wynne said the service should ask
procurement more complicated than it needed to be. The agency’s finding “
kind of leads you to ask the question: ‘Did we overcomplicate it?’” he said.
“We wanted to make sure we had competition. It’s very hard now because the industrial base in America is shrinking. Getting a competitor to hang in there was one of our early-on responsibilities because we felt like that was the best way to get a best price for the government and a best value for the taxpayer,” Wynne said.
Despite the shrinking industrial base, Wynne said
the U.S. military should avoid
resorting to sole-source contracts. “We cannot just fall back into the simplicity of saying ‘Let’s just go sole source.’ For the taxpayer that would be very difficult. You can do it, but I still think that if there is a chance to have competition you seek it out and do it.”
He acknowledged that the Air Force had failed in its goal to structure the tanker deal in a completely transparent way that would reduce the chances that the
losing bidder – which turned out to be Boeing – would file
a successful protest.
“We’ve got contingency contractors over in Iraq that are doing lots of business and have really set the standard over there for totally transparent procurement. Here we fell short of the mark. We got into the World Series and struck out in the ninth inning. I think we need to go back and re-look at how do we shape it and is there a way to do these in a way that the contractor is satisfied on all sides that it was a fair, open and complete procurement.”
The Air Force is likely to request a meeting with GAO officials to get some clarifications about specific language and findings in the report, Wynne said. “I think we may be asking for a clarification session with them to make sure we understand the words they put on paper, because maybe their words mean something different to them.”
He cited as one example a
finding that the Air Force inappropriately added value to Boeing’s bid on the tanker deal because they thought it was too low.
“It would almost say that you can’t add costs to a lowball bid. I don’t think that was their intent,” Wynne said. “We’ve got to ask them what they meant because that is how we got into the trouble with SBIRS,” he said, referring to the long-troubled
the Space Based Infrared System for missile warning
Asked if he thought the Air Force procurement system is broken, Wynne said he feels the service is improving, noting that the recent award of a contract to Lockheed Martin for GPS 3, the next generation of U.S. navigation satellites, was not protested
Wynne acknowledged that he had fought U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates on a number of issues, including funding for the F-22 aircraft, and his focus on ensuring the service was prepared for the next generation of warfare.
“I have no feelings of anger – this is business,” he said of being forced by Gates to resign. “I pushed the system very hard.”
He also acknowledged that the Air Force was not prepared for the massive demand for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) data – especially video – from U.S. fighting forces in Iraq and Afghanistan, another place where he clashed with Gates.
“I mean we were ill-prepared for the demand signal. It went nuts on us and the demand for ISR full-motion video went up so fast that I became a huge advocate for compressed data and trying to figure out how to pack more data because we are truly bandwidth limited.”
Wynne said he continues to believe that the Air Force has an obligation to get information
quickly into the hands of combatant commanders. “I advocate the need to share, not the need to know.”