by reader Ilsm
Approving Military Equipment Procurement
The Defense Acquisition Board is there to prevent the issues identified in the annual GAO Assessments of Selected Weapons Programs, 09-326SP and 10-388SP. The Board does not insist on product knowledge about what it is committing US funds for, nor manage the approval process through which a program manager has to pass to get into the next evolution of weapon system development, production or fielding.
This is because the board is largely political, exists to satisfy the military industrial complex demand for profit, and is challenged by the acquisition processes arcane complexity, lack of standards in engineering /managing products, and the reliance on advisory and assistance contractors in the program management offices whose work is beyond the capabilities of government managers to understand. The DoD acquisition system is failed.
If the program manager developing a weapon system does not have adequate product knowledge the system should be kept in study and not advanced to do engineering or manufacturing. The Defense Acquisition Board in most cases where commitments are overrunning approved start of the next engineering or production phase with inadequate product knowledge.
The GAO assessments are spot on and identify underlying causes of overruns, poor performance and schedule delays as false or at best inadequate product knowledge. The DAB is supposed to insist on product knowledge. They are not doing the job.
The first and earliest product knowledge is “technology knowledge” the DAB ignores the lack of connection between the “need” (fantasies to fight WW II again, developed in JCS and/or service ops tanks, a marketing process called mission area analysis in the Air Force-can address in comments) for the stuff. If they do not get the usefulness of new technology right, it makes no difference if they can design a capability that has no use.
There is a second aspect of technology knowledge and that is, can the new science be produced, operated and supported, this issue is ignored and even if needed the new technology has no chance to be manufactured and deliver a reliable capability.
The second product knowledge is “design knowledge”. Assuming there is technology knowledge engineers are then challenged to develop performance specifications which can be designed to deliver the capability applying the technology knowledge. This is more than challenging for the current acquisition system and its industry suppliers. This requires “item development specifications” rooted in the technology, related to performing in a war environment, in a breakdown of the product from the whole system down to the nuts and bolts.
With good technology knowledge this is daunting; with the usual technology knowledge this is an exercise in waste. The norm is to send systems into production with inadequate technology and design knowledge. This is why it takes twice as long to get the F-22 through tests and why the F-35 Lightning cannot meet any of its design test schedule. Just two of 96 examples GAO saw in Mar 2009. The result is specifications reflecting no design knowledge go on contract.
The final and most important is “production knowledge” which consists of knowing that the good design can be produced, with economic yields, and good quality so they equipment can be operated and supported in use with a predictable operations and maintenance budget to deliver the capability and keep it over large logistics tail ready for use in a war. The DAB ignores poor production knowledge more consistently than the others.
At this point about 10% of the life cycle cost of the capability is spent, here is where throwing good money after bad comes into play and here the DAB authorizes the program manager to produce and deliver a system which needs immediate and continuing redesign, modifications and too much costly logistics support.
Faulty product knowledge delivers cost overruns, schedule delays and poor performing systems that required too much logistics to keep running. GAO catches these but their results are not front page news.