DOD takes different tack on acquisitions

The Defense Department will no longer base its acquisition and development cycles on requirements but instead set benchmarks according to what systems can actually do.

The change will require DOD officials to define fewer specifics about systems ahead of time, and it should allow the military services to do more spiral development, in which new systems are honed through in-the-field use.

The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff's Instruction and Manual 3170 outline the transition from operational requirements documents to capabilities development documents. The new policy and guidelines "have not been signed yet but have been submitted to the signature authority for approval," according to a DOD official familiar with the documents.

"The baseline difference between the [old and new] documents lies mainly in how they were developed," said the official, who requested anonymity. "The new document is designed to reflect a capability-based approach that puts the senior decision-makers out in front of the capabilities integration and development system.

"No transition period has been formally defined, but all services have been briefed on the changes...[and] the services have been part of the development process of the new instructions," the official said. "In some cases, program offices have already started making the changes necessary for the new documents."

Unlike some DOD directives that are not followed until formal Pentagon approval is given, it appears this transition is already taking hold.

Army Maj. Carl Wilk, senior project officer at the Battle Command Battle Laboratory at Fort Leavenworth, Kan., said the Army's future Battle Command System development began as an operational requirement document and has been restructured to reflect capabilities rather than requirements.

The capabilities document will be tested in August during "seminar war games," in which one- and two-star officers will get their first look at the system and be able to provide feedback, he said.

Officials created the new guidance with transformation in mind. The change is not transformation in itself, but it is a new mind-set in what used to be called the requirements-generation process, the official said.

"The biggest challenge is getting people to think about that next level up from requirements to capabilities," Wilk said.

Loren Thompson, a defense analyst at the Lexington Institute, an Arlington, Va., think tank, said the move reflects Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld's post-Sept. 11, 2001, insistence on a capabilities-based model over the previous threat-based paradigm, with the idea that regardless of the threat, certain capabilities are essential to defeating any adversary. n

Focusing on adversaries Capabilities-based planning was emphasized in the 2001 Quadrennial Defense Review, reflecting the changing nature of threats to U.S. interests since the end of the Cold War and the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. The review stated that "a capabilities-based model — one that focuses more on how an adversary might fight than who the adversary might be and where a war might occur — broadens the strategic perspective."

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