Lawmakers grant DOD's request for early prototyping authority

By Tony Bertuca / December 7, 2023 at 4:44 PM

The conference committee version of the fiscal year 2024 defense authorization bill would allow military service secretaries greater authority to initiate the rapid prototyping for new-start weapon systems.

The provision, which began as a legislative proposal in March and was championed by Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall, would allow military secretaries to “initiate urgent or emerging operational development activities for a period of up to one year, in order to leverage an emergent technological advancement of value to the national defense to address a military service-specific need, or to provide a rapid response to an emerging threat identified by a military service,” according to the bill.

Kendall, speaking at an annual Space Symposium held in Colorado Springs, CO, in April, said the authority is necessary for the service to move more quickly to counter emerging technological threats.

“The problem that I have is the amount of time I have to wait for Congress to act on the things we want to do,” he said.

The Pentagon, in its initial legislative proposal, said the current practice of waiting for new-start prototype approval until the next budget cycle is hobbling the department’s ability to compete with China, “particularly given the routine practice of extended continuing resolutions in which new-start reprogrammings are not allowed.”

Kendall, speaking in April, said he submitted 12 new-start programs with the Air Force’s budget after completing analysis for his seven Operational Imperatives.

“So, a year has passed since we did the analysis and formulated our recommendations, so what’s happened in that year?” he said. “We took those to [the Office of the Secretary of Defense], we went through the [program objective memorandum] program and the budget process over the summer, we put them into the budget, we submitted the budget to the Congress, and now we’re waiting for the Congress to act.”

Kendall said at the time that much of the prototyping and design work could have begun long ago.

“I could have started a lot of those things a year ago,” he said. “Now I’m going to wait a good year, I would expect, and I’m worried it might be longer than that” if there is an extended continuing resolution.

Congress, in fact, did end up passing a stopgap CR that, for DOD, runs through Feb. 2.