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By Nick Wakeman

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Nick Wakeman

What procurement lessons will the next Air Force One teach?

The Air Force wants a new jet for the president, and guess what company is going to build it? No drumroll necessary. It’s Boeing.

The decision to use the 747-8 as the platform for the new Air Force One is no surprise, given that only Boeing and Airbus, a French company, make four-engine, wide-body jets big enough for the mission of being a flying White House.

The value of the contract hasn’t been disclosed. In fact, the Air Force says a contract award hasn’t been made yet, just the decision to sole-source the contact with Boeing. That’s because the Air Force and Boeing will be negotiating requirements, manufacturing, sustainment and other issues.

“We still need to finalize the overall acquisition strategy and conduct risk-reduction activities with Boeing to inform the engineering and manufacturing development contract negotiations that will define the capabilities and cost,” said Col. Amy McCain, the program manager, in a statement.

The jet will be fielded by 2020, about the time the current two jets in the Air Force One fleet hit the 30-year mark. They started flying in 1990 under the first President Bush.

But while there isn’t competition for construction of the plane itself, the Air Force says the talks with Boeing are designed to ensure competition for subsystems and sustainment over the expected 30-year life of the planes.

In the statement, the Air Force says it wants to “own enough of the technical baseline to permit competition for sustainment… Competition can keep costs down, spur innovation and provide options.”

Sounds good to me.

Frank Kendall, undersecretary of Defense for acquisition, technology and logistics, is involved in this procurement. Kendall is one of the fathers of the Better Buying Power initiatives. I hope he gathers some good lessons from this contract.

Some of those lessons should come from the partnership with Boeing. The customer and the contractor are talking to each other before the award is made. And that is possible because the Air Force has a clear vision of what it wants.

The concept of building competition into the life of a procurement gets talked about a lot, but I’m not sure it really bears fruit. You need the right design for the contract and a customer who makes it a priority.

In my mind, it all circles back to the vision. Granted, it might be easier to have that vision when your project is building a new Air Force One, but at the same time they also are building a platform they want to last for 30 years. A lot of change will happen over that period of time. Your design has to reflect that.

Air Force One shouldn’t be unique. The same requirements process can apply to nearly any project, but you need the vision. You need to know what outcome you want. And you need to build your contract to meet that outcome.

Hopefully, Kendall can tease out some of those lessons as the new Air Force One takes to the sky.

Posted by Nick Wakeman on Jan 29, 2015 at 9:34 AM

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