War Fighters in Acquisition

By Tucker, Aaron | Air & Space Power Journal, Winter 2009 | Go to article overview

War Fighters in Acquisition


Tucker, Aaron, Air & Space Power Journal


A Requirements Document for the Test Professional

Nations nearly always go into an armed contest with the equipment and methods of a former war. Victory always comes to that country which has made a proper estimate of the equipment and methods that can be used in modern ways.

-Maj Gen Billy Mitchell

Equipping, including research and development, is a primary responsibility of the Air Force.1 Yet, a loss of expertise during acquisition-reform initiatives and a lack of immediate and continuous involvement of test professionals have caused the service to struggle in its attempts to execute this critical task properly. Within the defense acquisition corps, these individuals contribute critical capabilities and expertise to the mission of supporting the materiel needs of the war fighter. To be fully effective, they must become involved in this acquisition process at the earliest stages. A proposed cadre of test professionals strikes a balance between system/mission experts and developmental test experts. These groups are developed along separate career paths that provide both recent operational experience and profound technical expertise to decision makers in the acquisition arena. A cadre of deliberately developed test professionals also seeds the ranks of senior officers with direct experience in acquisition. The result is a full integration of such professionals across a system's life cycle, from initial definition of requirements through development and initial operating capability to sustainment of warfighting capability in our nation's defense.

A Brief Sketch of Air Force Acquisition

Report after report has shown that there are fundamental problems with the way we buy major weapons systems.

-Senator Carl M. Levin, 6 May 2009

The relationship between the government's and industry's conduct of flight test has always provided a constructive tension designed to serve the requirements of the war fighter while pushing the leading edge of existing technology. Industry offers innovative, quality solutions to the war fighter's requirements while government testers ensure that the products meet those requirements. The military has recognized the need to develop its own standards and perform an independent evaluation of commercially produced aircraft since their initial use in World War I. The Air Corps Act of 1926, however, reduced military flight test and evaluation to brief acceptance-test programs. By the end of World War II, so many deficiencies were detected late in the procurement process that an independent Flight Test Division was established to conduct test and evaluation independent of the contractors and project offices. To meet the need for practitioners of this independent testing, the military established a test pilot school to improve technical competencies and standardize flight-test methodologies.2

By the end of the twentieth century, advances in technology, political shifts in acquisition policy and funding levels, and mission requirements had affected the balance of roles, responsibilities, and authority between government and industry testers. A series of acquisition-reform initiatives in the 1990s generally decreased government involvement in test planning, execution, and reporting. At best, government testers became partners in the conduct and analysis of tests. At worst, they simply evaluated test results for the program office, resulting in a significant reduction of experienced government test personnel and a veritable freeze in accessing, training, and educating the next generation of test professionals.3 "The lack of skilled oversight is costing the government," notes Sue C. Payton, the previous assistant secretary of the Air Force for acquisition. "I could save millions of taxpayer dollars . . . but I have to have the workforce with the domain knowledge that could be able to oversee it and manage it."4

Senators Carl Levin (D-MI) and John McCain (R-AZ) of the Senate Armed Services Committee introduced the Weapon System Reform Act of 2009 in order to "remedy a fundamentally broken defense acquisition system. …

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