DOD turning to capabilities

The Defense Department will no longer base its acquisition and development cycles on requirements and instead will use "capabilities" as the benchmark for future systems.

The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Instruction and Manual 3170 outlines the transition from operational requirements documents (ORDs) to capabilities development documents (CDDs). The new policy and guidelines "have not been signed yet, but have been submitted to the signature authority for approval," according to a Defense official familiar with the documents.

"The baseline difference between the two documents lies mainly in how they were developed," said the DOD 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, Fort Leavenworth, Kan., said the Army's future Battle Command System development began as an ORD and has been restructured to reflect capabilities as opposed to requirements. The capabilities development document will be tested in August during "seminar war games," where one- and two-star officers will get their first look at the system and be able to provide feedback, he said. "The new 3170 series will be one of the vehicles assisting in the transformation process," the DOD official said. "It was designed with transformation in mind. While the change in instructions is not transformation in itself in the operational sense, it is a new mind-set in what used to be called the requirements-generation process."

Wilk said that mind-set change is the greatest obstacle in moving to the new capabilities-based system.

"The biggest challenge is getting people to think about that next level up from requirements to capabilities," Wilk said. "It's firmly ingrained in the Army acquisition to requirements. Capabilities are less specific...and requires a mind change to think that next level above to capabilities to achieve warfighter needs."

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.

"It is a capabilities-based approach to defining priorities and investments," Thompson said.

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 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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