The United States Air Force (USAF) is in the midst of a wholescale modernization effort. From the introduction of Space Force to modernizing nuclear capabilities and adopting advanced battle management systems, it’s all systems go to deliver a defense force that is ready to meet the challenges of the 21st century. However, one area that is often overlooked during modernization efforts is how to improve the acquisition process to not only support broader transformation goals but also attract top talent.
This is not the case for the USAF, though, as Air Force Chief of Staff, General Charles Q. Brown, has made acquisition one of the three pillars of the Air Force’s transformation and modernization strategy. “The Department of Defense (DoD) has, in general, taken a piecemeal approach to transformation that has slowed the overall progress and hampered the success of modernization efforts,” explained Michael C. Masten, Vice President of Operations at Chenega Applied Solutions. “Brown’s commitment to overhauling the way in which the Air Force acquires everything from physical office space to technology will be critical to ensuring the success of these efforts.”
With more than a decade of leading modernization efforts for the DoD and the Intelligence Community, Masten knows of what he speaks. “The DoD, and the Air Force, in particular, needs to be able to transform themselves into a Silicon Valley-like organization that will attract the talent and skillsets they need to support the transformation of the organization,” he shared. “Right now, the Air Force and the DoD writ large are struggling to attract or retain top talent because so much of the organization and infrastructure is outdated. The buildings are old, the technology is old, and even the way technology is procured is old. People might joke about it taking 10 years to access new software, even if it’s developed in-house, but it’s not far from actuality.”
But as Masten knows – and as his team at Chenega Applied Solutions has demonstrated – there’s a different path forward. Even before this coordinated modernization push within the Air Force, an emerging program birthed out of the Defense Innovation Unit (DIU), engaged Masten and his team to deliver a turnkey solution from locating and renovating office space in downtown Boston to sourcing and building out the IT infrastructure and providing on-going IT and facilities support. Now known as Kessel Run, the USAF’s Life Cycle Management Center (AFLCMC)’s Detachment 12 at Hanscom AFB delivers “combat capabilities warfighters love” and has a mission is to “revolutionize the Air Force software acquisition process” with support from the DIU in Boston and Joint Base Langley. In short, what this experience created, was a blueprint for Modernization as-a-Service (MaaS). Masten and his team have since leveraged their MaaS model to provide cutting-edge facilities and support for numerous other Air Force programs and software factories, including EITaaS at Hanscom AFB, LevelUP in San Antonio, Blue Sky in Macon, GA, and most recently Project Synergy supporting the 402nd SWEG at Warner Robins AFB.
“Approaching Modernization as-a-Service enabled these Air Force teams that were looking to perform mission-critical software and solution development nimbly to get off base and immerse themselves in the technology communities that would support agility and help them successfully compete for the right talent,” explained Masten. And this approach will become even more important to the USAF as the Space Force Command ramps up in the coming year and as the Department of Defense adopts DevSecOps for developing and updating critical tools in near real-time to meet the mission.
“The visionaries inside the Air Force, including General Charles Q. Brown, who are advocating for these bold changes, are directly influencing mission success in an increasingly complex geopolitical environment,” concluded Masten. “We’re proud to be part of this effort supporting modernization and transformation, quite literally, from the ground floor up.”
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