Former Air Force chief of arms named as Pentagon’s top arms buyer


Bill LaPlante, who left the Pentagon in 2015, has spent the past six years working on technologies the military needs. President Biden said on Tuesday that he would appoint the former Air Force weapons chief to become the Pentagon’s main arms buyer. Politics first reported his appointment.

Autonomy, machine learning and other software, to name a few, have been at the center of LaPlante’s post-Pentagon roles, overseeing key technology at Miter and Draper Labs, two research organizations. and nonprofit development that support the Defense Department.

If confirmed by the Senate, LaPlante would have the opportunity to institutionalize many of these efforts within the Pentagon. But it also faces a number of immediate challenges, including a supply chain crisis that has increased costs and delayed weapons projects.

“LaPlante is well known to the Senate Armed Services Committee and should have no problem with the confirmation process,” said Arnold Punaro, president of the National Defense Industrial Association, in an emailed statement.

Still, 22 other Biden picks for Pentagon jobs are currently on hold in the Senate, Capital Alpha Partners’ Byron Callan wrote in a note to investors. The White House has yet to identify candidates for 13 other Pentagon positions. And many of the acquisition positions in the office that LaPlante would oversee are filled by interim civil servants.

If confirmed, LaPlante would join two of his former Obama administration acquisition colleagues, current Secretary of the Air Force Frank Kendall and Heidi Shyu, the Under Secretary for Research and Engineering.

Callan, analyst at Capital Alpha Partners, said “tackling the culture / practices of DoD software acquisition” will be one of LaPlante’s main tasks. Other priorities should include “better use of the acquisition tools that Congress has provided to the DoD to accelerate program development and procurement, and to encourage new entrants, and … improve the practices and policies of maintaining the DoD, ”Callan wrote.

LaPlante would also be expected to help shape the Pentagon’s stance on defense industry consolidation and determine the fate of a popular pandemic policy of paying contractors more money up front. to create more liquidity within the supply chain, Callan wrote.

“He has a great deal of experience and understanding of the industry, which also has a great and deep respect for him,” said Hawk Carlisle, President and CEO of the National Defense Industrial Association. LaPlante sits on the NDIA Board of Directors.

In October 2020, LaPlante credited a handful of acquisition policy changes, including “the mid-level rapid prototyping and acquisition pathways; rapid capacity offices in the army, air force and space force; expansion of other transaction powers; quick experiences; and pitch days where small businesses come up with ideas and the DOD writes a check on the spot ”- with accelerated innovation.

“These are necessary tools that provide buyers with flexibility and alternative approaches, while freeing innovators from the unique application of the sometimes Byzantine DoD processes,” LaPlante wrote in a Defense 1 Commentary co-authored with Jamie Morin, executive of the nonprofit Aerospace Corporation and former Pentagon official in the Obama administration.

While the Air Force’s primary weapons buyer, LaPlante oversaw a team that selected Northrop Grumman to build a new stealth bomber, something the military hadn’t done in over three decades.

After leaving the Pentagon in late 2015, LaPlante went to work for MITER Corp., where he oversaw more than 4,000 scientists and engineers supporting the Department of Defense. There, LaPlante focused on getting the nonprofit organization’s federally funded research and development centers to respond more quickly to the emerging needs of the Pentagon and the intelligence community. He has overseen efforts involving new nuclear command and control systems, automation, artificial intelligence, cybersecurity, protecting satellites in space, and accelerating the security clearance process.

LaPlante is also a member of the board of directors of Lift, a Detroit-based public-private partnership between the Department of Defense, industry and academia, working on the development and deployment of advanced manufacturing technologies. He was also a member of the Defense Science Board, where he co-chaired the gaming, exercise, modeling and simulation working group.

In July, LaPlante was part of a group that met with Assistant Secretary of Defense Kathleen Hicks at Draper Labs headquarters in Cambridge, Massachusetts. LaPlante touted the nonprofit’s work to secure microchips used in military weapons and other research and development initiatives.

“I truly believe this is part of serving our nation that gives us an edge in the world,” said Senator Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., A member of the Senate Armed Services Committee who attended that July meeting. . “I believe in what we’re doing here.


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