The Army Acquisition Officer Career Path: What You Should Know

The definition of acquisition is: an asset or object bought or obtained. When you consider the United States Army, there are many items that must be acquired. The Army does not manufacture the majority of items that are used. These items must be purchased and the Army must stay within the budget range.

With the budget cuts that have been made by the government, it becomes more difficult to stay within those budget guidelines, and still keep our Army supplied with the best equipment. This is where Army Acquisition Officers come in. It is their job to garner the best deals for Army supplies and equipment. These Officers are similar to purchasing agents in the civilian world.

The Army Acquisition Officer has many responsibilities. This can be a satisfying job in that you are able to supply soldiers with the equipment and other items they need to be safe and to fight against the enemies bent on destroying our freedoms. In today’s post, we will examine the Army Acquisition Officer career path and what you should know about it.

Functional Area 51 Overview

FA 51 is the source that manages combat and material development organizations and the procurement of equipment and supplies for the United States Army. Those within this Functional Area participate in analyzing mission areas, developing battlefield plans, modernization and all Life Cycle Systems Management phases.

The 2 primary Officer positions within FA 51 are:

  • 51A which is System Development

  • 51C covers Contracting

Those people who desire one of these positions must have at least a B.A. by a Department of the Army recognized college or university in a managerial, technical or scientific field. I will go deeper into the qualifications and duties further on in this article. Do know that Chapter 41 of DA PAM 600-3 goes into full detail.

51A Research and System Development

Those with 51A designation will be involved in researching new technological advances and the development of new materials. They will evaluate competing technologies with a high aspect on foreign technologies which could affect Army systems. Monitoring the system design and development, the 51A will ensure the design satisfies Army operational requirements and is at the lowest life cycle cost. Supervision of budget requirements for the formulation and execution of the research, testing and evaluation are also a major responsibility. At the same time, the 51A is considering the future needs of the Army by creating and participating in studies.

This is just a small portion of the duties of the 51A. Graded positions in the 51A area are:

  1. CPT Research Staff Officer

  2. CPT or MAJ Research Engineer

  3. MAJ Assistant Product Manager

  4. MAJ Research Coordinator

  5. LTC Project Management Officer

  6. LTC Research Project Officer

  7. COL Director of Research and Development

51C Contract and Combat Development

The key to the 51C position is solving battlefield deficiencies. The responsibilities include formulating and developing training and organizational material to solve these deficiencies. When a requirement for combat operations is determined, the 51C will analyze the life cycle costs, if it is affordable, the implications in the structure of the force and battlefield integration.

This is just a brief outline of the duties of the 51C. Graded positions in the 51C area are:

  1. CPT Combat Development Staff Officer

  2. MAJ Combat Development Coordinator

  3. LTC Deputy TRADOC System Manager

  4. LTC Combat Development Project Officer

  5. COL Director of Combat Development

  6. COL TRADOC System Manager

Training For The Army Acquisition Career Path

The United States Army Acquisition Support Center is in the Army DACM office at Fort Belvoir, Virginia. They handle all development programs for Army Acquisition Officers. The start of training for Officers seeking the FA 51 area is:

  • A 3 week Army Acquisition Foundation Course (AAFC) which is held at the Army Acquisition Center of Excellence (AACoE) which is at Huntsville, Alabama. Some Officers may be selected to attend Naval Postgraduate School which means they will have to complete an MBA in Program Management or Contracting before they attend the training at AACoE.

  • Right after completing the 3 week AAFC, 51As will take a 3 week Army Intermediate Program Management Course (AIPM), and 51Cs will take a 4 week Army Basic Contracting Course (ABCC). These courses are also held at the Army Acquisition Center of Excellence.

At this point, the FA 51 Officers will be given their first assignments which will be for approximately 2 years. This will provide on-the-job training and experience. 51Cs will then have to return to the Army Acquisition Center of Excellence and complete a 4 week Army Intermediate Contracting Course (AICC).

The Future

As budgets tighten, but the needs of soldiers increase, the role of Army Acquisition Officers is challenging. Working with civilian manufacturers to garner cost efficient, but technologically advanced items is the primary goal. The Officers, civilians and NCOs who work in Functional Area 51 have a mission to keep us far above and ahead in technological advances, making sure our forces are both safe and prepared to defend our nation from anything developed.

For Officers in the 51 area, no one can enter unless they are a Captain or higher. The after Army future can be bright for any Officer within the FA 51 service. Corporations all over are in need of purchasing, product development, systems integration and much more that could utilize the skills of retired Army personnel who have this experience.

While the FA 51 career area may not seem “sexy,” it is a job that the United States Army, soldiers, and the nation needs and relies on without even realizing they do. I believe more credit should be given to those who work in FA 51.

I had the experience of meeting some staff of FA 51 when I worked for Nike a few years ago. No, they were not getting tennis shoes for soldiers. Believe it or not, Nike was manufacturing a technologically advanced material that you can find on the bottoms of armored personnel carriers and also the inside of helmets. This material has saved countless limbs and lives from IED explosions. If not for FA 51, this material would never had been developed, and we would probably have buried countless more soldiers.

Final Thoughts

We would love to hear from any who work within the FA 51 structure. If you can provide us more information on this Officer career path, we would be grateful. You can post your comments or questions in the section below.

Here are some reference links for further reading. Thank you.

chuck holmes

Chuck Holmes
Former Army Major (resigned)

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