“…sustaining exaggerated acquisition timelines in the name of good public stewardship has become an embarrassing National failure.”
In my opinion there are two primary issues damaging our Nation’s future defenses!
- Loss of technical superiority – bureaucratic acquisition processes are breaking the bank while doubling or tripling system development and delivery times; and,
- Smaller numbers of military platforms –American taxpayers are spending too much to get too little military capability.
This is not news to the defense department. Over the past two decades, hundreds of studies and reports have identified causes and recommended changes. To date, no effective action has been able to reverse the trend. In April 2009 the Defense Science Board study, Creating a Strategic DOD Acquisition Platform stated:
“Typical major system acquisitions take 10 to 15 years, while new product development in the commercial sector of similarly complex systems takes one-third to one-half of that time.”
…” the nation faces very adaptive adversaries. The United States is no longer in a unique position of technological supremacy. Many types of advanced technology are readily available on the world market.”
Unfortunately this reality has been self-inflicted in the well-intended name of good public stewardship. The acquisition bureaucracies (to include Congressional committees) have attempted to fix every acquisition cost, schedule, or performance failure with additional rules & oversight constraints. One only need look at history to understand the extent of our current crisis:
“The Westinghouse Corporation was assigned to build its reactor. After the submarine was completed, Mamie Eisenhower broke the traditional bottle of champagne on Nautilus’ bow. On 17 January 1955, it began its sea trials after leaving its dock in Groton, Connecticut. The submarine was 320 feet long, and cost about $55 million.”
To develop and deliver the world’s most technically sophisticated submarine in three and one-half years for the cost of $470 million (2012 $ equivalent) is laughable today.
“As of April 2010 the United States intends to buy a total of 2,443 aircraft for an estimated US$323 billion [equates to $132M per aircraft], making it the most expensive defense program in US history.”
Following the success of early programs like the Nautilus submarine, acquisition process began to be formalized around the measurement of cost, schedule, and performance as primary decision metrics. These same metrics are the current program foundation for all of DoD’s acquisition programs. Interestingly, to my knowledge, these metrics have never been examined as contributors to the problem.
While supporting a recent acquisition reform study, I began to ponder the potential impact of changing the primary acquisition metrics from cost, schedule, & performance to speed to capability. When one considers that speed to capability is critical to successful military deterrence, it is not a stretch to understand that cost, schedule, & performance are of secondary importance. Measured correctly, this single metric could have game changing impact just as did John F Kennedy’s call to safely put a man on the moon by the end of the decade.
Building transparency around everything that reduces speed to capability, would allow bureaucratic processes to be exposed and corrected. Most acquisition delaying activities are never assigned culpability. Examples include:
- Congressional budgeting delays that prevent funds from being efficiently expended;
- Contracting offices that delay contracts in the name of fairness and legal constraints;
- Budget categories, meant to prevent misuse of funds, that bottleneck contract expenditures;
- Independent requirements processes that define requirements outside the art-of-the-possible;
- Senior acquisition milestone reviews requiring hundreds of “stakeholder in the loop” briefings (read that non-productive weeks);
- Integrated Product Teams that enable low priority concerns to hold up program milestone decisions;
- Cost overruns driven by delayed milestone reviews;
- Reduced production quantities driven by cost overruns;
- Independent and inconsistent information assurance (IA) processes that substitute process for effective IA;
- Lengthy and expensive independent Test & Evaluation processes that still authorize ineffective equipment to be fielded; and,
- …. this list could go on and on!
Alternatively, if every organization involved with an acquisition program were transparently measured and rewarded for demonstrated speed to capability then delaying processes would be prioritized in terms of lost time, lost operational capability, and ineffective cost growth. Managed appropriately, these metrics would reward managers that moved processes quickly while weeding out those that allow lower priority issues to trump delivery time.
Speed to capability is always the primary metric during war, just as it was in the recent gulf wars. A good example is the U.S. Army’s Kestrel persistent ground surveillance system that successfully supports the Afganistan war effort.
“…Kestrel, birthed out of an Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance Task Force initiative for protection of forward bases, was developed within 12 months.”
The commercial markets have always understood that time is money. Speed to market has always been the metric that drives commercial high-technology products. In this age of Internet transparency, speed to market has become even more critical, as the U.S. finds itself competing with high technology products from around the globe!
Considering the instabilities that face our planet’s future, sustaining exaggerated acquisition timelines in the name of good public stewardship has become an embarrassing National failure. The April 2009 Defense Science Board said it best, but that call to action has yet to create effective change:
“Fixing the DOD acquisition process is a critical national security issue—requiring the attention of the Secretary of Defense. DOD needs a strategic acquisition platform to guide the process of equipping its forces with the right materiel to support mission needs in an expeditious, cost-effective manner. The incoming leadership must address this concern among its top priorities, as the nation’s military prowess depends on it.”