The Air Force Stands Up an Acquisition Task Force to Support Supplier Resiliency

Published: April 08, 2020

Federal Market AnalysisAcquisition ReformUSAFCoronavirus (COVID-19) PandemicInnovation

The U.S. Air Force has established a special acquisition task force to support and leverage their industrial supply base during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Key Takeaways

  • The Air Force has launched a COVID-19 Joint Acquisition Task Force (JATF) that leverages existing innovation acquisition programs to both acquire critical needs and sustain at-risk defense industry firms impacted by the coronavirus pandemic.
  • The AF JAFT resources for industry include capability acquisition liaison support, contract opportunities, and Q&A webinars.
  • These Air Force efforts may have broader transformative impacts on how federal agencies spur innovation and acquire new technologies once the pandemic subsides.

Last week Dr. Will Roper, the Assistant Secretary of the Air Force for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics (ATL), established a special COVID-19 acquisition task force to help sustain its defense industrial base (DIB) suppliers throughout the coronavirus pandemic, especially small businesses.

In a teleconference covered by Breaking Defense, Roper told reporters, “I have mobilized the Department of the Air Force into a wartime acquisition posture, and that is the purpose of our acquisition COVID-19 task force . . . We are at war with this virus.” With that in mind the Air Force’s top acquisition official is pressing his service to quickly and creatively respond to the impacts of the coronavirus on defense contractors. “Cash flow and liquidity are everything right now,” Roper commented. The Air Force effort builds on and supports the Department of the Defense’s (DoD) newly established Joint Acquisition Task Force (JATF) for COVID-19 to assess and rapidly respond to challenges presented by the coronavirus pandemic.

Building on Existing Air Force Acquisition Innovations

The Air Forced acquisition task force efforts will build upon existing programs that have supported the services recent technology innovation efforts like AFVentures, which is collaboration between Air Force Acquisition, the AFWERX innovation accelerator and the Air Force Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program. AFVentures “serves as an easy open door for commercial innovators and private capital investment to help the Department of the Air Force solve problems and deliver better capability to the warfighter, faster.” Existing efforts include industry pitch days which focus on the more rapid acquisition of the latest innovative technologies.

Industry Resources

The AFWERX COVID-19 Joint Acquisition Task Force (JATF) provides a number of resources targeted for non-governmental organizations, including companies and non-profits.

  • Industry interest form where suppliers may provide information on ways they can help support federal response efforts.
  • Contract opportunities in COVID-19 interest areas (application open until April 30).
  • COVID-19 Economic Impact form to inform the DoD on how the pandemic has impacted your firm.
  • Webinars to provide industry with an overview of the initiative and the opportunity to ask questions. (If you miss one you can watch the recordings here.)

Like many other federal departments and agencies the Air Force has set up an Air Force COVID-19 Update Web page where they post their latest news, efforts and policies around the pandemic.


One of the key priorities of the JATF is to speed the flow of billions of dollars in federal acquisitions and relief funding in support for industry suppliers that are under duress due to impacts of the virus on their businesses, especially small businesses. Roper says that AFVentures personnel are meeting daily to ensure the Air Force spends all of its small business funds. Based on two years of experience in building their various programs, “They have demonstrated the ability to do more small business contracts that anyone in the government at speeds never seen.” Another focus is how the DoD and its contractors will adjust and recover from the impacts and get back on their footing. So the success of the JAFT will likely impact how well some DIB members will weather and rebound from the current storm.

Beyond the impacts of efforts to meet immediate critical needs, there may be some lasting impacts from the federal COVID-19 response efforts in general and from the JATF and underlying programs in specific.

First is the efforts to adapt to remote operations for both government and contracted personnel and suppliers. Some agencies are being forced to innovate to keep operating and support disrupted business partners.

Yet the impacts of the Air Force JATF may go well beyond the current pandemic response. In an article in Forbes on the new JAFT, Dr. Loren Thompson of the Lexington Institute suggests that Roper’s influence on spurring innovation and sustaining industrial competitiveness during the pandemic may have transformative effects on federal acquisitions.  

In leveraging its innovation acquisition programs that they have been building prior to the pandemic the JATF may influence how other agencies across the federal government approach acquisitions over the long term. Some federal agencies will now want to follow the Air Force’s example. Others who have adopted similar processes during the pandemic will not want to go back to the old ways of doing things.