The president and CEO of Bell Helicopter draws on the company’s decades of defense experience to provide insights for the way ahead.
by Mr. Mitch Snyder
Bell Helicopter is honored to have been an industry partner in defense acquisition since 1935. More importantly, we are proud of our legacy as pioneers of transformational equipment that continues to shape the battlefield and meet the ever-changing face of combat. These rapid advancements in technology have introduced precise weapon systems, stealth operations and advanced capabilities, allowing the U.S. armed forces to maintain critical strategic advantages and keep the enemy guessing.
For more than two centuries, the armed forces have continually redefined how wars are won. Unique missions and requirements have driven demand for innovative products year after year, conflict after conflict, as traditional battle tactics have become obsolete. Original equipment manufacturers are prepared to meet the future needs of our customers, filling capability gaps and making their visions a reality.
Today, in an era of constantly emerging threats and evolving technologies, it’s important for industry and the military services to work together to improve the acquisition system so that we can deliver cutting-edge products to the warfighter in a timely manner.
Under the direction of the congressional armed services committees, as well as DOD, we have made real strides toward new approaches to acquisition. However, we still have more work to do to increase the speed at which we get the latest technological advancements into the hands of our military.
We are encouraged that our government partners have asked industry to help define reform initiatives that will yield the type of sustained, positive and long-term changes to the acquisition process that will produce enduring benefits, cost savings and a more efficient workforce. Like the idea of acquisition reform, these changes are not entirely new. They entail both restoring acquisition management practices that worked in the past, as well as introducing more agile and adaptive methods that will help streamline and simplify the process.
From a general perspective, the defense acquisition system can very often be time-consuming, resource-intensive and bureaucratic. We believe that there are a number of ways to realize efficiencies and save time and the associated costs.
First, we believe that empowering the individuals closest to the work—on both the industry and government sides—and thereby engaging the entire team will allow us to develop more collaborative and innovative programs that can be implemented more efficiently. These core values apply to our partnerships, our programs and, in spirit, the acquisition process at large.
Secondly, we need to empower our best professionals and incentivize program managers to not only procure the most cost-effective solutions but also to deliver critical capabilities and requirements quickly to the warfighter. We must look at programs from a holistic perspective and understand the total cost of a solution, including integration costs, training, maintenance, etc.—not just price at face value. Doing so will allow us to improve our agency review processes and evaluation cycles to be more in tune with urgent requirements and customer needs.
Finally, end-state equipment and its components should be separated in a manner such that the military can update design components easily with the introduction of new technologies, without having to go through a multiyear, multiagency review of system upgrades or capability increases. This will greatly assist in getting advanced functionality to the services without waiting the 10-plus years it often takes to introduce a new product, and will help integrate new technologies more efficiently into existing fleets at half the cost and in half the time.
A few decades ago, the contracting process was different, and easier. Government and industry negotiators sat face to face and worked collaboratively to develop contracts that sought to meet both parties’ expectations. This type of open, robust dialogue and discussion ensured that all parties fully understood the requirements and that little was left to chance. It helped streamline deliverables and eliminated “scope (or requirements) creep.” Today, as we work together to find ways to make the acquisition process less complicated, it would serve us well—the warfighter, the nation and the taxpayer—to go back to this approach.
A COLLABORATIVE PHILOSOPHY
Industry and government partners are working hard to learn from one another, as we strive to create new processes from the ground up while continuing to increase transparency and agility within all of our respective organizations.
At the industry level, we recognize it takes time to conduct preliminary design concept studies, analyses of alternatives, requests for information, requests for proposals and other steps of the competitive process ultimately leading to production. While all of these are important elements of the overall acquisition process, they all consume time, which is a critical commodity. In our experience, the vast majority of program schedule lags between industry and the government result from lack of data sharing and waiting for responses to inquiries.
Together we can speed up product introductions by embracing a philosophy of collaborative teaming between government and industry. Working side by side in a joint environment that includes industry as a partner in government concept planning (design, build, test, train, maintain and upgrade), we can establish more realistic schedules and ensure that programs are subject to fair and open competition.
Our experience working on the Joint Multi-Role Technology Demonstrator (JMR-TD) has proven to be an excellent example of acquisition transformation, a model of this teaming philosophy. Through the JMR-TD, industry and the government are partnering throughout the early design and development phases and will continue to work in close cooperation until product delivery. Those of us on the industry side have been able to participate from the outset at levels that are not typical for this phase of a design competition. The result is bound to be an improved capability for the end user.
Using advanced tools, Bell Helicopter’s Team Valor has been successful in creating a digital framework that connects all aspects of the program, including engineering, manufacturing and testing. We now have one common data source that facilitates a one-stop process for all change reviews between industry and government. All training systems, integrated logistics support products and much more can benefit from a common information source shared by government and industry. This proactive collaboration at the early phases of development allows us to understand the value of particular requirements and deliverables, and to tailor special requirements based on the results.
We look forward to learning more from the JMR-TD efforts and accomplishments, and to continue creating opportunities to use this new collaborative approach between government and industry, leading to shorter decision-making processes and moving programs forward faster.
Building on existing technologies, industry partners have significantly reduced the time it takes to bring new platforms to market while vastly improving the quantity, quality and reliability of the data produced during development. In many cases, technology and innovation are moving faster than the current acquisition system can support. And while all parties—government, the services and industry—may have agreed to pursue a new technology, it frequently takes too long to get the final product into the hands of the end user.
As we look to the future, our forces must be more agile and deployed at greater speeds—with more impressive technology and power than ever. The military is looking for unique capabilities, and we view it as our responsibility to equip the warfighter today with the tools of tomorrow.
Working together, we can build smarter, faster and more economically—and we have the data to prove it.
(Editor’s Note: Bell Helicopter Textron Inc. is competing with a team formed by Sikorsky Aircraft Corp. and Boeing Co. to build a prototype for the Army’s next generation of vertical lift aircraft, with flight demonstrations anticipated in 2017 to inform the requirements process, followed by designing and building the next-generation aircraft over the next two years as a program of record. The next step would be for the Army to conduct a competitive procurement for a new family of helicopters, with fielding in the late 2020s or early 2030s. This commentary reflects only the opinions of Bell Helicopter; it does not represent the opinions or policy of the Army or DOD.)
MR. MITCH SNYDER is president and CEO of Bell Helicopter, which he joined in 2004. Previously Bell Helicopter’s executive vice president for military business, he has led a number of the company’s key strategic initiatives, including the V-22 Osprey program. He has more than 30 years’ experience in the aerospace and defense industry, including several leadership positions with Lockheed Martin Corp. He holds a B.S. in electrical engineering from Kansas State University, where he is an Alumni Fellow for the College of Engineering. He has also completed the Defense Institute for Security Assistance Management Executive Course.
This article was originally published in the October – December 2016 issue of Army AL&T magazine.
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Future Vertical Lift program: “A Big Lift” (Army AL&T, July-September 2016)
“Joint Multi-role Demonstrators in Race to Starting Line” (Defense News, April 28, 2016)
“JMR Fast-Rotorcraft Demonstrators Begin to Take Shape” (Aviation Week & Space Technology, April 22, 2016)