Air Force Digital Service will fundamentally change acquisition

The Air Force’s new Digital Service is looking for ways it can increase speed and improve communications around acquisition.

Lt. Gen. Arnold Bunch, military deputy for the Air Force assistant acquisition secretary, said the service is already working on two existing programs in the Air Force.

The Digital Service is helping with the development wavering GPS Operational Control Segment, a program that was pointed out for going more than 25 percent over its cost estimates. It’s also working on the Air Operations Center Weapons Center 10.2, which is dealing with surging costs.

The Digital Service is working to fix software development and cybersecurity issues before future development in the programs, Bunch said. Both programs are heavily reliant on software.

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That’s not all the service is doing around the Air Force though. Bunch has the service working with other program executive officers about their specific programs.

The service will “give us insight as to how we are doing on those programs and if there are changes that we need to make in our strategy. Our goal is to use their expertise, coupled with other experts we have within the Air Force to ensure that we start our programs off properly,” Bunch said.

Bunch said right now the service is going in and rescuing programs, but he wants to use the service as a way to start programs off on the right foot.

The service will ask questions like “Do we have the right requirements? Is industry even going to understand what we are asking them to do? Can we write the requirement in a way that they can understand and propose back to? Is it clear in the request for proposal that we are putting out what we are really asking for? Do the proposals that we have in hand show a solid level of understanding by our industry partners on how to develop the software in the proper environment that’s up to commercial standards? Are we starting the program with the right approach?” Bunch said.

The point is to keep programs from going over in costs.

Former Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James created the Air Force Digital Service as one of her last acts. The point of the service, James said in January, is to build software excellence into new programs and “troubleshoot existing programs that run into difficulties associated with software. Software is frequently at the root of many of our difficulties.”

The Air Force Digital Service is part of the Defense Digital Service, a component of the Defense Department set up by former Defense Secretary Ash Carter to bring top technology experts on board for short periods of time to solve big Defense IT problems.

The broader Defense Digital Service is seriously involved in projects ranging from the Pentagon’s collection and reporting of data on sexual assault to the control systems that will manage the next generation of GPS to a cloud-based overhaul of the long-maligned Defense Travel System.

“It’s been an opening of the floodgates,” Chris Lynch, director of DDS, said last June. “Since then, we’ve had tons of people showing up at our office to talk to us about the various challenges they’ve had. Some of them are IT professionals who tell us they’ve been waiting literally their entire careers for an office like this.”