SOF Acquisition: Streamlining Processes to Maximize Readiness
An interview with the Special Forces’ acquisition executive James Geurts.
A&M: How well does the acquisition structure you have in place work in terms of ensuring U.S. Special Forces get the equipment they need, when they need it, no matter where they are?
Geurts: The structure works exceedingly well. The direct line of communications between the SOCOM Commander and me, as the Acquisition Executive, leading the Special Operations Research, Development, and Acquisition Center (SORDAC) team, streamlines the process for systems acquisition and ensures a thorough and complete understanding of the Commander’s guidance and intent. This directly translates into the accelerated fielding of the Special Operations Forces (SOF)-unique systems and equipment which provide our operators with the capabilities required to accomplish their assigned missions. It also allows me to continually shape SORDAC so that it is synchronized and responsive to dynamic SOF operational needs.
A&M: With the Pentagon tightening budgets and shifting priorities, has SORDAC had to adjust to this new reality?
Geurts: For 2014, we will remain focused on the operator, while we simultaneously execute strategies to enhance our support to the Commander’s lines of operation and grow the capabilities of our SOF acquisition team. One area we will be focusing on in 2014 in particular will be maturing our global logistics support strategies to ensure we can effectively and efficiently deliver and support needed SOF capabilities to back the Commander’s Global SOF Campaign Plan.
We are also continuing to grow our capabilities to provide effective acquisition of services through our new Program Executive Officer (PEO) for Services. Finally, we will continue to develop, implement, and refine innovative acquisition approaches to enable us to deliver acquisition and sustainment solutions at the speed of SOF.
Recognizing that people are our most valuable asset, we continued our extensive efforts to recruit, train, and retain a remarkable team of SOF acquirers and logisticians. We were recognized by the Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology, and Logistics this year as having the DoD’s top Acquisition Workforce Development program, which is the third year in a row we’ve been recognized as having a top program in this area. Of all the DoD’s acquisition awards and honors, this particular one personally means the most to me because I believe in the SOF Truth that people are more important than hardware.
A&M: How has SORDAC’s Directorate of Science & Technology maintained research and development levels?
Geurts: Maintaining balance between operations and maintenance and investment/modernization funding is always challenging, but it’s even more so in light of increasingly scarce budget dollars combined with simultaneously supporting combat and SOF operations around the world. A great example of how we’re able to maintain our science and technology (S&T) funding is the new initiative to develop enhanced capabilities for our ground forces under the Tactical Assault Light Operators Suit (TALOS) program.
In addition, we continue to refine our partnerships with other S&T activities in the DoD to ensure we can leverage their investments wherever possible. However, our overall investment funding continues to lag in terms of percentage of the total SOCOM budget (compared to historical levels over the last decade). Obviously this will remain a strategic focus for the command in our next budget cycle.
SORDAC’s director of S&T, as SOCOM’s S&T Council chair, has utilized the Council to manage these precious resources by focusing on priorities based on available resources. The S&T Council, consisting of SOCOM component and theater SOCOM S&T representatives, provides strategic S&T direction and guidance, synchronizes planning efforts and actions across the command’s S&T enterprise, and facilitates technical development of capabilities for SOF. No matter the constraints, we continue to focus on maximizing the delivery of new or improved capabilities into the hands of SOF operators.
A&M: How would you characterize the challenges facing your team in SOF acquisition?
Geurts: Suffice it to say we approach the many challenges of acquisition in the same [in the spirit of] the SOF operators we serve. It all comes down to competence, creativity, courage, integrity, and an unwavering operational focus. The complex and heavily legislated government procurement system can be quite a demanding environment, and our goal is to grow SOF acquirers who can effectively navigate through that system to provide rapid and focused acquisition, technology, and logistics to the field. We continue to lead the DoD in exploiting new ways to develop, procure, and sustain capabilities for our users, while also focusing on developing our most precious asset, our SOF acquirers.
We have a number of internal programs to help us continue to drive innovation and change in the way we do things—which includes waging a never ending self-declared war on bureaucracy, where we recognize “Bureaucracy Busters” who find effective means to innovate how we accomplish our mission and reduce the transactional cost of SOF acquisition.
A&M: Can you highlight some of your key acquisition priorities in the coming year and how you have gone about identifying them?
Geurts: Our priorities in 2014 are based on the strategic guidance provided by the President, Secretary of Defense, and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs and will include equipping SOF operators as a system; providing next-generation protection for our operators; recapitalizing and procuring new air, ground, and maritime platforms; and ensuring we have the communications infrastructure and equipment to sustain future operations.
For the soldier, we are focusing on rapidly fielding leap-ahead capabilities for survivability, lethality, and communications. The driving force in this area is the TALOS activity, which is synchronizing the many investments SOCOM is making in this capability area.
The C-130 fleet will be recapitalized with the AC-130J program, providing our gunship fleet with the latest in close-air support, while the MC-130J program is replacing the aging H-model penetrators and P-model tankers.
To ensure the agility of our SOF operators, we initiated the procurement of a new Ground Mobility Vehicle. The vehicle can negotiate challenging terrain and, very importantly, is air transportable via our SOF rotary-wing aircraft.
Our maritime priorities include surface and subsurface efforts. We will continue deliveries of the Combat Craft Assault and recently completed the down-select of the Combatant Craft Medium platform. Additionally, we will continue to enhance our subsurface capability through the Shallow Water Combat Submersible and Dry Combat Submersible efforts.
Enterprise-wide, we recognize a need to expand our communications infrastructure, especially with respect to intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) data. As our mission priorities and direction change, we will likely shift to areas that lack a robust terrestrial network. In response, we will continue to pursue a DoD-wide, joint airborne ISR asset, independent of platform or sensor.
A&M: To what extent do you encourage or prioritize technological innovation in your sourcing or acquisition of equipment for SOF?
Geurts: SORDAC emphasizes innovation in technologies and processes throughout the Command and during all phases of the acquisition life cycle. SORDAC’s Directorate of S&T has implemented a Special Operations Advanced Technology Collaborative (SOATC) technology development process. This development process aligns SOF identified gaps and problem areas with technology enablers and developers, focuses ongoing efforts across the S&T enterprise, and identifies additional innovation that is required to address these gaps. Many organizations’ R&D activities often overlap SOF interests—this optimized process has improved coordination and collaboration among various research organizations to efficiently deliver technology to address SOCOM’s technology interests. This includes a Technology Integration Liaison Office (TILO), multiple field experimentation venues each year, multiple cooperative research and development agreements, and uses of commercial-like contracting mechanisms for prototyping.
A&M: In 2012, SOCOM awarded more contracts under SORDAC authority than in any past year. Will growth continue in 2014 as the SOF Global Network expands?
Geurts: The SORDAC team (which includes the SOCOM J4) is aggressively working to support the SOCOM Commander’s vision and the Global Campaign Plan-SOF. Developing the SOF sustainment strategy to enable support of the Global Campaign Plan will be a major focus for SOF logisticians and program managers in 2014. Simultaneously, we are supporting the Commander’s primary operation of winning the current fight and ensuring our combat forces remain properly sustained through a mix of uniform and contracted support personnel.
Finally, we must sustain our retrograde effort in Afghanistan. J4 partnered with the leaders of Central Command and the Special Operations Joint Task Force-Afghanistan to develop a robust contractor-supported effort to identify, prepare, and turn in SOF equipment for redistribution or reset.
The SORDAC Contracting Office executed 13,716 contract actions, obligating $3.148 billion in FY 13, which was a slight decrease since FY 12 due mostly in the reduced budget under sequestration in FY 13. I expect activities to remain fairly constant in FY 14 relative to FY 13.
Also, importantly, SOCOM exceeded its aggressive competition and small business goals in FY 13, ensuring that we continue to achieve best value for the government. We achieved over a 75 percent competition rate in FY 13, bettering our FY 12 rate and exceeding our goal by over 5 percent. In addition, we achieved a small business rate of over 25 percent, or two percent over our goal.
A&M: How do you handle a request that comes in from an operational theater for a piece of equipment that you may not have?
Geurts: SOCOM has a process to validate urgent requirements and field the needed capability. A critical mission need statement (CMNS), generated from the field, documents the need. After a rapid, integrated review by the SOCOM staff (to include acquisition and logistics personnel), it is validated and forwarded to the Acquisition Center for execution as an urgent deployment acquisition (UDA). UDAs receive highest priority, and the acquisition executive ensures all resources available are available to ensure their successful execution.
A&M: What are the toughest challenges you expect to face this year?
Geurts: We have a best-in-world team of SOF acquirers (to include logisticians), and we have put in place a structured approach to develop, test, and implement this new support strategy. Accomplishing this in a budget constrained fiscal climate will demand innovation and creativity, but those are both key traits of SOF acquirers. Additionally, we will need tocontinue to invent new acquisition strategies which recognize and take advantage of the accelerating pace of technology change.
Our largest challenge will be adapting our current SOF acquisition enterprise to provide our rapid and focused acquisition, technology, and logistics to the new Global SOF Campaign Plan—being able to provide rapid and focused equipment and support worldwide simultaneously will certainly be demanding.
Again, our operationally oriented acquisition mindset and tolerance for trying new things will serve us well, and TALOS provides a demanding first-use case for those new strategies. Finally, and most importantly, we will need to ensure we continue our DoD-leading acquisition workforce development program to ensure we can recruit, train, and retain the SOF Acquisition talent needed to support our SOF operators.
This article originally appeared in the May 2014 issue of Armor & Mobility magazine.