One of the biggest complaints the Pentagon faces is the length of time it takes to field a piece of technology. Over time, numerous studies, papers and speeches have been devoted to solving the problem, but some say programs still remain stifled by bureaucratic red tape.
However, some Defense Department organizations have made notable advancements over the years. The Army's Rapid Equipping Force and the Joint Improvised Explosive Device Defeat Organization, both established during the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, were created in order to meet urgent operational needs rapidly.
At the REF, which is based in Fort Belvoir, Virginia, the command has been able to quickly equip soldiers with critical technologies, said director Col. Steven Sliwa.
The organization was given special acquisition authorities that allow its director to generate and approve requirements for forward-deployed forces facing unique challenges, Sliwa said.
"To make sure we do it quickly, we already have a funding stream that is fairly flexible," he said.
Commercial, off-the-shelf items are critical for the group, he said.
"We're going to go after the small, immediate, quick wins, focusing on what's commercially off the shelf or a GOTS [government off-the-shelf product]," he said. "It's really about the current battlefield as opposed to the future."
Since its inception, thousands of items have been put on the battlefield, Sliwa said. One example is the tactical aerostat system, a tethered balloon and sensor that can provide soldiers with elevated intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance information. ISR platforms comprised 12 percent of the REF's 2014 requirements.
It's tempting to compare the way the REF acquires technology to traditional Pentagon programs. However, the Rapid Equipping Force plans for immediate needs rather than ones decades into the future, Sliwa said.
"When you compare them [traditional programs] against the REF, it's not really a fair fight because I'll never work on an Ml tank here," he said.
As the war in Afghanistan winds down, the REF has reduced its size. It recently took a one-third cut to its civilian workforce but can build it up again, if necessary, Sliwa said.
"While the Army was getting smaller, the REF got smaller as well. But I have a plan to get larger when we have to and to be able to put items into the hands of warfighters quickly," Sliwa said. "You can't do that ... from a cold start."
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