One of the most important lessons to come out of the last eight years of wars in Iraq and Afghanistan is the inevitability of troops in combat needing equipment which had not been available to them in peacetime. Operating primarily in dismounted mode and facing new kinds of threats from weapons such as improvised explosive devices, U.S. ground units found themselves in desperate need of all kinds of equipment. Back to headquarters came urgent operational needs requests for everything from warm weather gear, man-portable robots and uparmored vehicles to improved night vision goggles, laser target designators and better tactical radios. Many of these urgent needs were matters of life or death for Soldiers and Marines.
So critical were these needs and insistent the demands that the Army had to create an entirely a new organization to meet them. This was the Rapid Equipping Force (REF). The REF’s mission was to identify immediate unmet operational needs and satisfy those requirements as best as possible within 90 days. This approach completely went around the traditional, time consuming, expensive acquisition process. But it worked. The REF put together teams of engineers, contract specialists, supply chain managers and testers who were able to translate the needs of combatant forces into requirements and identify solutions, often coming from the commercial world.
As the war in Iraq is winding down and there is a 2014 light at the end of the Afghanistan tunnel, what was to become of the lessons learned and capabilities created to ensure that urgent operational needs could be met? Virtually all the funding for addressing these needs came from supplemental budgets. This meant that as soon as those extra resources vanished so too would the ability to meet the urgent operational needs created by a new contingency or conflict. While a new supplemental appropriation could be passed in the event of a new conflict inevitably there would be delays in creating and passing such legislation that could place warfighters in peril.
DoD has figured out the problem. The Pentagon has requested that Congress establish a fund specifically devoted to financing the development and fielding of new capabilities intended to meet urgent operational needs. The idea is to create a permanent line item in the DoD budget to support the fulfillment of such needs.
This is a necessary and positive first step. In addition to dedicating resources to meeting urgent operational needs, DoD also needs to reform the organizational and decisionmaking processes by which such urgent needs are addressed. There are too many offices involved in responding to such needs. In addition, there are too many requirements generated by those offices. DoD needs to create a streamlined and simpler structure, one that focuses on defining the minimum necessary set of requirements for capabilities intended to meet urgent needs. Also, it would be smart for the Pentagon to look at streamlined contracting procedures and the use of GSA schedules and ID/IQ contracts to create an ongoing set of mechanisms that can be triggered swiftly when needs arise.
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