Academic journal article McNair Papers

2 the Defense Acquisition Challenge: Fielding Affordable Weapons

Academic journal article McNair Papers

2 the Defense Acquisition Challenge: Fielding Affordable Weapons

Article excerpt


The U.S. defense establishment is committed to fielding technologically superior but more affordable weapon systems. Faulty requirements generation and premature technology transition are the two most important causes of cost growth in U.S. defense acquisition programs. Associated issues are examined in this chapter and recommendations are made for improving the processes used by technologists, operators, and acquisition professionals to initiate major weapon system development programs.


In 1992, the Department of Defense (DOD) announced a new Science and Technology (S&T) strategy (1) to reduce defense procurement budgets in the new post-Cold War national security environment. This new S&T approach contained many of the resource strategy elements proposed earlier by Representative Les Aspin. (2) Under either approach, force modernization improvements will occur less frequently. Technology will be matured through successive generations in the laboratory before entering the formal acquisition "pipeline." Technology "rollover" is emphasized, and limited numbers of operational prototypes rather than high-volume production are planned. No changes were made to improve the acquisition process itself. However, the Director of Defense Research and Engineering (DDR&E) was given more authority to exert centralized control over the defense S&T program. In theory, the DDR&E will use this authority to eliminate duplication among the military services.

The new S&T strategy is a step in the right direction--but not far enough. A more comprehensive approach should be taken--one that improves the weapon system acquisition process itself. From a program execution standpoint, this means elevating the importance of cost control. This imperative must be put on an equal footing with expanding the performance envelope of U.S. weapon systems. It also means improving the way major defense acquisition programs start and active management of the structure of the defense industrial base. A "dual-use" economy should be the goal--a single, integrated industrial base that produces globally competitive commercial and defense goods. This more comprehensive strategy complements the plan to improve the DOD S&T program by fixing the downstream problems in the acquisition pipeline. As a result, technologies that emerge from multiple "rollover" iterations will be fielded in less expensive weapon systems and on a shorter development cycle.

A companion paper (3) examines seven cost drivers judged to be among the leading sources of cost growth in modern weapon systems (Table 2.1). These drivers are ranked by their relative impact on cost. A generic acquisition category is indicated in column three. The remaining column shows that the DOD S&T strategy partially addresses one leading source of cost growth--premature technology transition. Ideally, every program acquisition strategy should address each of these cost drivers.

In this chapter, the relevant issues associated with the requirements generation and technology transition processes are explored in detail. These two processes must be fixed in order to take the output of a technology "rollover program and establish a cost-effective weapon system acquisition program. In the discussion that follows, ten policy recommendations are offered for consideration by senior acquisition decisionmakers (Table 2.2).

Program Initiation Issues

Serious problems beset the start up of defense acquisition programs. Why? More often than not, the "true" mission requirements and costs have not been adequately identified, and a realistic acquisition strategy has not been developed. Hence, right from the beginning, most programs are poorly postured to meet performance goals on time and within budget.

To get programs on track, two broken processes need repairs (Table 2.2). The first order of business is to gain control over the requirements generation process. …

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