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Air Force 'really pushing' for faster cyber acquisition

The Air Force is considering launching a cyber rapid capabilities office, Air Force Cyber Commander Gen. Robert Skinner said during the Air Force Association's Air, Space, Cyber conference on Sept. 17.

The Air Force is "really pushing" for rapid cyber acquisition capabilities in line with the branch's existing rapid capabilities office and the one being stood up under its Space Command, Skinner said during a panel on cyber operations in a multi-domain environment.

"We have an Air Force RCO, we also have a space RCO that's just being stood up at Kirtland Air Force Base," Skinner said. "We're also looking at a cyber RCO and how do we leverage the DNA that is in the AF RCO, and Space RCO to tackle the cyber challenges from a rapid capabilities standpoint."

Updating the Air Force's acquisition strategy to be quicker and more agile -- especially through utilizing small businesses -- was a consistent theme throughout day one of the conference.

Brig. Gen. David Gaedecke, the director for the Air Force's Cyberspace Operations and Warfighting Integration and CIO for the Information Dominance office, pointed to the development of the Aeronet as an example of quickly fielding new capabilities.

"Aeronet is essentially taking a radio with a smartphone and some other components and being able to share information with any of our partners" on an open system and works with light-attack aircraft network.

Gaedecke said the commercial capability materialized in a matter of months, proving that things can be developed and fielded quickly.

"We know how to do this, we know how to be quick, we know how to take innovation and bring it to the field quickly," he said.

Valerie Muck, director of the Air Force's small business programs, said 20 percent of the Air Force's eligible dollars went small businesses in fiscal 2018, totaling about $11 billion. That was partly due to 55 awarded contracts in as many days as the result of a collaborative effort with the Air Force Research Laboratory and Small Business Innovation Research, she said during an acquisitions panel.

But the Air Force is looking to increase that number. Muck also highlighted the need to consider small businesses for subcontracting opportunities while Darlene Costello, the Air Force's principal deputy assistant secretary for acquisition, pushed for looser past performance requirements in contracts, quick contracting such as other transaction authorities for fixed amounts and using small businesses over prime companies for quick innovative work.

To get there, however, the Air Force may have rethink how it treats acquisition programs, said Lt Gen John F. Thompson, commander of the Air Force Space Command's Space and Missile Systems Center.

"We are program of record happy," Thomson said, who said the Air Force's Space Enterprise Consortium will far exceed its initial $100 million funding cap by year's end, reaching nearly $200 million in contracts awarded each under 90 days. "We have to get away from that addiction" by prototyping multiple capabilities to meet the same requirement on smaller scales and early on for large programs of record, which the Air Force Space Command is already doing.

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