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Maj. Gen. Sarah Zabel Speaks at the Potomac Officers Club’s 2018 Air Force Acquisition Forum

Maj. Gen. Sarah Zabel

On Aug. 8th, GovCon public and private sector representatives gathered for the Potomac Officers Club’s 2018 Air Force Acquisition Forum, featuring keynote speaker Maj. Gen. Sarah Zabel, director of information technology acquisition development, in the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Air Force for Acquisition. Following her speech, Zabel was joined by a panel of defense experts who shed further light on the challenges and opportunities facing the service branch’s acquisition process.

Zabel began by discussing the need to quickly deliver key capabilities to our warfighters, given that “our adversaries move so fast … and we need to not only keep up with them but stay ahead of them.” To achieve this, Zabel highlighted the service branch’s use of Section 804 acquisitions, rapid prototyping and rapid fielding, referring to the ability to achieve capabilities in up to five years and the ability to initiate production within six months of receiving approval, respectively.

“It starts off with a different assumption of timeframes [than the traditional acquisitions approach],” Zabel told the audience, adding that “it also starts off with a different message to the workforce.” The latter part is a challenge, Zabel noted, as often the law or policy allows for innovation in approach, but the culture is still tied to the old model. Here, she credited Dr. Will Roper, assistant secretary of the Air Force for acquisition, technology and logistics, for his role in seeking out innovation and guiding change in the workforce.

Through these innovation mechanisms, Zabel said, the Air Force will be able to experiment and test “truly out of the box ideas.” Providing examples, she mentioned hypersonic weapons, saying “those things can really be a game-changer,” and pointed to an in-development overhead persistent infrared system and new satellite technology.

Zabel went on to discuss sustainment, estimating that approximately “70 percent of our budget” goes toward keeping up existing systems. She explained that Dr. Roper has been tasked with assisting in the Rapid Sustainment Office’s implementation and management, meant to develop new processes and technologies and help drive down costs. As an example of this office’s potential, Zabel asserted the initiative will allow the Air Force to secure replacement parts it otherwise wouldn’t be able to get.

Zabel also commented on the role of industry in helping shape the acquisitions process. She advised while it’s important to provide comments on what’s in a request for proposals, it’s just as important for industry stakeholders to provide comments on what’s not in it. “[We] have our own blinders of what we don’t see,” Zabel said.

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