The crystal ball may be unusually cloudy when it comes to predicting defense technology and acquisition trends for 2017, but the causes of this cloudiness are clear. The change in administration, coupled with the new management structure being imposed by Congress on the Department of Defense's (DoD) acquisition enterprise, is creating a shifting and unpredictable landscape. Uncertainty is the main trend, or theme, of 2017.
Rather than identify trends in a time of high uncertainty, we can identify a few overarching issues that will set the tone for 2017.
These are the realignment of the Office of Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics (AT&L), the as-yet undefined strategic requirements of the new administration, whether it will institute its own flavor of “acquisition reform” and whether current efforts aimed at enhancing U.S. technological or other advantages over its adversaries like the Third Offset initiative will continue.
As laid out in the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for 2017, Congress is requiring the executive branch to alter how it manages the DoD acquisition enterprise. Currently, a single executive leads the AT&L enterprise, but in the new structure, this will be split up into an under-secretary for acquisition and sustainment and an under-secretary for research and engineering. There was some churn before the final structure was settled on, but the link established between acquisition and sustainment ensures that sustainment considerations are incorporated during the acquisition process.
The Pentagon has until February of 2018 to finalize the change, but planning will need to start well in advance. It may be that the current structure of the assistant secretary of defense for research and engineering is pulled out and stood up as a separate organization, which would be a reasonably simple change, at least as seen on an organizational chart.
However, no matter how this is done, new seams will be created that will need to be managed, and the identification of authority over different stages of the acquisition process remains unclear. Congress has imposed different acquisition structures on DoD over the years — it is an ever-evolving organization — and DoD will once again have to figure out how to operate in a new way.
During the transitional time, the churn it creates inside the Office of the Secretary of Defense as stakeholders figure out roles and missions could have an impact on organizations working with and supporting the Pentagon. This will likely settle over time, but the next two years are likely to be the most uncertain. That said, the acquisition enterprise has been reorganized many times over the decades, and DoD's culture allows it to evolve and change. (end of excerpt)
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