Magazine article National Defense

Testers Shouldn't Be Blamed for Defense Program Setbacks. (Commentary)

Magazine article National Defense

Testers Shouldn't Be Blamed for Defense Program Setbacks. (Commentary)

Article excerpt

At the Defense Department, every three or four years, we seem to have this compelling need to reform the acquisition process and to seek innovative approaches for reducing the time and effort required to field new military systems and capabilities.

The reality today is that, after decades of presidential commissions, Defense Science Board task forces, etc., we still have major acquisition programs taking 15 to 20 years--and costing an arm and a leg--to get through the process.

Just look at the track record of some of our current, high-visibility acquisition programs.

The Comanche program was born in 1981, when the Army's budget showed up with the new LHX program planned to replace the UH-l utility and AH-1 Cobra attack helicopters. Twenty-one years and over five billion dollars later, what do we have to show for it? We're still seven or more years away from fielding the Comanche.

The Army/Marine Corps JVX program also started in 1981. Again, more than 20 years and at least 11 billion dollars spent, we have a V-22 Osprey program that is still several years from deployment. And our forces are still without a replacement for the Marine Corps fleet of CH-46s.

In a similar vein, I recall the debate in the early- to mid-1980s about the scope and requirements for the Air Force's Advanced Tactical Fighter program. More than 15 years and 27 billion dollars later, we're still several years away from full operational capability for the F-22.

While I've obviously singled out three high-visibility programs--all aircraft developments undertaken in the 1980s--I dare say that you will find similar histories for a whole host of our cutting-edge development programs over the past 20 or so years.

So what has gone wrong? A Defense Science Board panel in 1990 found that the root cause of the program stretch-outs and cost increases was the lack of appreciation of the technical challenges faced by the programs at their outsets. Program after program had entered full-scale development before they were ready.

When these technical problems surfaced, primarily in development testing, the stretch-out and cost growth cycle began. We found that the messenger of bad tidings, most often the test and evaluation (T&E) community, was then tarred with responsibility for the delays.

Clearly, we have failed, time and again, to do our homework early on, or to make the up-front investments required for an informed understanding of the technical and cost risks inherent in a program before we launched off into full-scale development and procurement.

In essence, we have been "rushing to failure.

However, I take exception to the views of those who continue to depict the T&E community as a major roadblock in the way of acquisition reform. Nevertheless, the T&E community must continue to be flexible and ready to rapidly adjust to continuing efforts to streamline the acquisition process.

We, the testing community, must seriously consider restructuring ourselves, if necessary, as well as our thinking, to better meet the new challenges.

Among the major new initiatives is capabilities-based acquisition. The idea here is a continuous process of design, development and testing of a new concept or system until we demonstrate and validate a level of capability deemed worth considering for procurement and deployment.

One of the features of this approach is that, up to this point, there are no hard and fast requirements, threat-based or otherwise, against which to measure the operational effectiveness or suitability of the system. …

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