Mitchell Institute Releases New Policy Paper: Acquisition at the Speed of Combat, Not at the Pace of Bureaucracy

ARLINGTON, Va (June 23, 2017) — The Mitchell Institute for Aerospace Studies is pleased to release its latest Policy Paper, Acquisition at the Speed of Combat, Not at the Pace of Bureaucracy: Enabling Progress in Reform by Michael Sirak, Mitchell Institute visiting fellow.

Like the rest of the Defense Department, the Air Force’s acquisition system still relies on highly bureaucratic, industrial-age procurement methods that drives length procurement cycles—often measured in decades. Maintaining this business approach is no longer tenable in an age when US adversaries are exploiting the explosion of commercially available technology to their advantage, innovatively fielding new capability much more quickly. Amidst such dynamics, US technological superiority is eroding.

The Air Force must fundamentally rethink and retool how it acquires weapon systems. The mission of the acquisition workforce must be delivering effective, responsive, and reliable capability as soon as possible to meet warfighting requirements. Airmen need new systems at the speed of combat, not the pace of bureaucracy.

Air Force leadership repeatedly has exhorted Airmen to be bold and innovative. The acquisition community must now embrace those tenets, restoring sound military judgment (e.g., mission value, sustainment efficiencies, lifecycle costs) in selecting new capability and inculcating a culture that rewards risk-taking, accepts failure as part of pushing innovation, and makes “speed to capability” a key metric by which it judges acquisition success. Getting a civilian acquisition chief in place is crucial to push these reforms and provide top cover for acquisition professionals performing this way.

Congressionally initiated reforms of the last several years, plus Air Force-initiated steps, such as revitalizing experimentation—like the upcoming OA-X initiative to assess light attack aircraft—and giving acquisition professionals more flexibility to do their jobs, are slowly taking root. But major revamp is still necessary as the service executes critical modernization and recapitalization programs and legacy system upgrades.The Mitchell Institute Policy Paper series provides in-depth insights and perspectives informed by experienced authors, coupled with original supporting research.

For more information on the series, contact Mitchell’s Director of Publications Marc V. Schanz at or visit our website, at

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