The bad news is that the Army has a big problem: an entrenched process that cannot generate capability requirements fast enough to get the capability into Soldiers’ hands when they need it.
The good news is that the Army is taking very seriously its efforts on innovation–innovation in the systems it procures as well as in the ways it procures them–with the realistic hope of speeding acquisition in ways large and small, and getting advanced, much-needed capabilities to the Soldier more rapidly.
The prevailing view of Army leadership is that defense acquisition is not fundamentally broken; it’s just bureaucratic, outdated, rigid and very slow.
The process, built on the mighty triad of the Joint Capabilities Integration and Development System (JCIDS), the Defense Acquisition System and the Planning, Programming, Budgeting and Execution system, has become an equation for failure–failure to deliver to Soldiers on the battlefield the capabilities they need. That’s according to interviews that Army AL&T conducted in October and November 2016 with the Army Capabilities Integration Center (ARCIC) leadership and senior staff, acquisition program managers and representatives of industry who are working with the Army on new capabilities.
One of those senior leaders, Maj. Gen. Robert M. “Bo” Dyess, ARCIC deputy director since July 2015 and previously director of force development in HQDA G-8, outlined key factors in this equation, both internal and external: a heavy workload of requirements for the people in the U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC) who generate them, and inadequate communication from government to industry about what it needs. Nor does government have any means to understand just what industry is capable of.
Imagine buying a new car, but without being able to go online and do some research or drop by your local dealerships to take a look or a test drive. Instead, you have to document all of the capabilities the car must have–every single aspect of it, from the kinds of materials used in its construction to the sizes of all the nuts and bolts to the engineering specifications of the motor (horsepower, how fast the vehicle can go and in what terrain and weather conditions) and the design of all of the electronics and the software that controls them, all without getting input from industry–car companies. Let’s say that it’s been 15 years since you bought a new car and your old car has a carburetor, only the most rudimentary computer system, plus a CD player and a cassette deck, and you’re not really aware of new developments in automotive technology. What you know is what you’ve got.
Now that you have documented all of these requirements, let’s say you had to put out the specifications for bid to all of the different car dealers you know of. In this scenario, you wouldn’t even be aware that you could get an all-electric car or that many new cars come with autonomous braking if you follow the car in front of you too closely, or sensors to help keep you in your lane.
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For the uninitiated, capability requirements are both descriptive and prescriptive, going into exhaustive and painstaking detail on why a system is needed and for what, what the system should do and how it should do that throughout its life cycle–and more. A requirements document, which may run to several hundred pages, is a living document, and every time some jot or tittle of the program changes, the program manager must update the requirements documentation with all of the potential ramifications of the changes. Requirements address every aspect of a program or system. They are not optional. In some respects, requirements are so thoroughgoing that it is almost as though a requirements developer must have a crystal ball.
There are good reasons why defense acquisition programs, which can cost many billions of dollars, must have all of their requirements documented and updated. The Army, for example, does not fund itself and has a fiduciary duty to taxpayers to explain, via its representatives, why it is expending such vast sums. But Congress is not the only audience to whom the Army must report. That reporting is often multilayered and exhaustive–and to those who do it, it can be exhausting. It is no surprise, then, that such painstaking detail takes time, and that, because of all of this time-consuming documentation, a system is likely to be outdated by the time it reaches the end user, the Soldier.
Part of the problem is also the requirements generation process itself. TRADOC, the organization that generates requirements, and ARCIC have worked with the U.S. Army Materiel Command (AMC) through the AMC-sponsored Army Innovation Summits to identify impediments to requirements generation.At the third summit, Dyess said, “We worked with them to identify barriers between government and industry, which seem to pop up frequently. And so we’ve recommended several ways in order to help the people who do requirements generation … and address barriers with industry.”
With respect to requirements, the Army also has to address certain barriers to itself. For example, the positions of TRADOC capability managers are not centrally selected billets, which means they can be staffed by individuals with no or insufficient operational experience. “We think that we should be putting leaders in there that have successfully commanded battalions and brigades,” said Dyess. “So we’d like to get the Army to designate those billets as former battalion and brigade commanders, because it’s just so critically important that the requirements are written and written correctly, in the beginning, the middle and the end of an acquisition and testing process.”
Staffing positions with the right people remains a work in progress, but it is just one aspect of how ARCIC is looking to melt the glacier of acquisition.
Another initiative underway is selective reduction of JCIDS reporting and analysis requirements, in conjunction with acquisition leaders in the Office of the Secretary of Defense (OSD). “We’re really trying to look at what is the appropriate level of analysis that’s required for each one of the programs that is being worked on,” Dyess said. “You don’t need to have the same level of analysis for an ACAT [acquisition category] III-level program that you do for an ACAT I-level program with OSD oversight, but you do need to have some level of analysis that ties it to an operational setting in the way in which the capability will be utilized.” (For a related article, see “Rethinking the Analysis”.)
The multiple initiatives underway to speed the acquisition process echo Army Chief of Staff Gen. Mark A. Milley’s March 2016 “Report to Congress on Chief of Staff of the Army Acquisition Authorities,” in which Milley wrote: “New tools and processes will be essential to the effort. Determining what systems should be developed to support the national military strategy requires extensive and iterative prototyping to allow for refinement of requirements without excessive risk or requirements creep within programs.”
New tools are exactly what ARCIC is employing, in conjunction with Army and industry stakeholders, to pick up the pace of acquisition. The tools are multidimensional, but they all hew to the priorities and principles of the Army Warfighting Challenges (AWFCs), which grew out of the U.S. Army Operating Concept, “Win in a Complex World,” released in October 2014. The AWFCs, currently numbering 20, are “enduring first-order problems, the solutions to which improve the combat effectiveness of the current and future force,” according to ARCIC’s AWFC webpage. Each challenge has a designated lead within TRADOC.
New capabilities translate those challenges into solutions, and those capabilities require–you guessed it–requirements documents. Therein lies one of the problems, because building better requirements, a prerequisite to building better capabilities, is a multifaceted endeavor with a boatload of stakeholders. Engaging those stakeholders early in both processes–capabilities and requirements development–is a dramatic departure from business as usual.
Based on Dyess’ experience working with the acquisition, testing, requirements and resourcing communities, he noted a new degree of collaboration among those many Army stakeholders, as well as with industry, in determining “what is in the art of the possible.”
Lt. Gen. Michael E. Williamson, principal military deputy to the assistant secretary of the Army for acquisition, logistics and technology (ASA(ALT)), has seen this increased collaboration across the functional domains of acquisition and between government and industry pay off in measurable efficiencies and reduced risks. “Greater collaboration is critical for improving our requirements generation processes and delivering the right capabilities to our Soldiers in the right time frame,” Williamson said. “Our program executive offices and program managers are excited to partner with their counterparts in ARCIC and the centers of excellence, along with industry, and see what results this team sport we call big ‘A’ acquisition can produce to support our Soldiers in an environment where rapid change is the norm.”
Williamson noted that the Army’s new Rapid Capabilities Office is “another example of how increased collaboration driven by Army senior leader priorities will require all members of this team sport to come together and find innovative ways to develop and deliver critically needed technologies.”
In one of several collaborative initiatives, ARCIC formed a Science, Technology, Research and Accelerated Capabilities Division (STRACD) in 2015 by consolidating two divisions, in part out of pragmatism related to the drawdown of forces but also based on a still-maturing and potentially powerful concept: “a unique capability” uniting science and technology (S&T) with rapid capabilities expertise, said Lt. Col. Eric Van De Hey, who leads the Industry Engagement Branch of STRACD.
The accelerated capabilities team historically had worked with the Rapid Equipping Force in quick-reaction fieldings and prototyping assessments. STRACD continues to work hand in hand with the Brigade Modernization Command, an element of ARCIC, to develop scenarios for the Army warfighting assessments (AWAs) and the network integration evaluations (NIEs), the Army’s two primary means to provide Soldier feedback on emerging concepts and capabilities in demanding, operationally realistic settings. Both events are designed to deliver the Mission Command Network 2020 and assess interim solutions to AWFCs.
“So,” Van De Hey explained, “there was a pretty robust element that was highly involved with some of what’s happening with the future of the military, and then we brought in the science and technology piece, which does everything from working with DARPA [the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency] to the different science boards to working with other elements, such as megacities, subterrain, counter-UAS [unmanned aerial systems], to major efforts such as FVL, or Future Vertical Lift.”
The rapid capabilities element was also quite familiar with the Army governance process, including working with the Office of the ASA(ALT) to help shape and influence budgetary planning through the program objective memorandum to support various S&T efforts developed with the Army centers of excellence.
Industry also is, more than ever, a critical player in speeding up the acquisition machine, Dyess said, and is a central focus of ARCIC’s efforts. “There’s no prohibition against good ideas,” he said. “No matter how you slice it, collaboration does remain key to this.”
The Army Innovation Summits have made cautious strides toward identifying barriers between government and industry, particularly during the requirements-generation process. The third and most recent summit, held in August 2016 in Williamsburg, Virginia, was the first in which industry was invited to participate, but to a limited extent as recommended by government lawyers.
Summit participants agreed that the government needs to do a better job of telling industry what it wants, Dyess said. “There’s no forum for industry to address the government to [have it] tell them what it wants, and particularly the Army.” Another barrier identified during the summit, he said, was that “small businesses really just don’t have a chance to break in.”
TRADOC and ARCIC responded quickly to both concerns. First, they introduced the Forum for Innovative Novel Discovery (FIND) at the Association of the United States Army Annual Meeting & Exposition in October 2016 in Washington. FIND, announced through FedBizOpps.gov, invited small businesses to present their ideas and technologies, in this instance in the area of robotics and autonomous systems. Second, in December, ARCIC held its inaugural Capabilities Information Exchange at TRADOC headquarters at Fort Eustis, Virginia, also announced through FedBizOpps.gov, to brief industry on the Army’s needs, initiatives and concepts.
Industry also has been quick to respond to the potential for earlier and closer collaboration with the Army. The National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2016, combined with plenty of old-fashioned ingenuity, has yielded significant progress toward more strategic acquisition.
Some barriers remain to maximizing collaboration with industry in the development of Army warfighting requirements.
In a striking example, the Army made much of the fact that industry would be a part of its third innovation summit. Yet after industry leaders got to the event in Williamsburg, they learned that they could attend only the presentations. Army lawyers had determined that it would be inappropriate for the industry representatives to take part in the nitty-gritty “breakout” discussions with Army leaders because of their competing business interests.
One of those senior industry leaders was a vice president and general manager from BAE Systems, said Jim Miller, director of business development for the company and closely involved with its work on developing Mobile Protected Firepower as part of the Army’s combat vehicle modernization strategy. “We were really excited about it, the chance to go to those four-star discussions and be part of it … only to be limited by the legal guys. That was really unfortunate,” Miller said. Similar legal concerns–some of them unfounded, DOD acquisition leaders have stressed–have discouraged Army officials from sharing information on program plans with industry in the past.
“The Army leadership and the Army lawyers really need to break the code on that,” Miller said.
Still, in the ongoing development of acquisition as a team sport, both the roster and the rules show distinct improvement, and nowhere is this more evident than in the process of generating requirements. It is not the only arena in which the rules of the game are changing, but it is arguably the most closely watched–by the Army’s combat and requirement developers, their partners in industry and academia and, most important, the Soldiers and their leaders who will take the products of those requirements into battle. “We do want to innovate faster, and we do want to provide capabilities to Soldiers and units more quickly,” Dyess said.
“This maturing process that we’ve gone through as a team between industry and the Army is starting to make [the requirements process] better,” Miller said. “I would call it changing. It’s been getting better for five or six years, and it’s still evolving. There’s still room for us to get better.”
The testing framework itself is changing as well. While AWFCs continue to steer the prioritization of capabilities, the AWA and NIE events will continue to inform not only the warfighting requirements, but the requirements-generating process.
The Soldier-led AWA, the first of which took place in October 2016 at Fort Bliss, Texas, has become the Army’s primary means of identifying and assessing interim solutions to meet the AFWCs, focusing on concepts and capabilities in a rigorous and realistic operational environment without the formal testing constraints of the now-complementary NIEs.
The AWAs and NIEs are both annual events designed to generate Soldier and leader feedback on concepts and capabilities that will improve system performance. Both actively involve industry to encourage private-sector innovation and early collaboration on potential new capabilities. The AWA, however, will maximize collective training resources, joint and multinational interoperability and future force development.
In the end, the principle of rigor behind the requirements-generation process remains the same, Dyess said, because the requirements serve the Soldier: “You have to determine your required capabilities, and then from where you are now to where you want to go, those are the gaps. And then you make recommendations on what solutions you can bring to the force in a time period in order to meet those gaps so that we have both overmatch and to not make it a fair fight, because we don’t want a fair fight. We want to have all the advantages to ourselves.”
For more information on ARCIC, the Army’s capability and research and development needs and its ongoing initiatives to improve requirements generation, go to http://arcic.army.mil/.
Pictured above: Pvt. Zachery T. Strother of the 40th Engineering Battalion conducts training maneuvers in an M2 Bradley Fighting Vehicle at AWA 17.1 in October 2016 at Fort Bliss, Texas. While NIEs focus on formal testing and evaluation of programs of record, AWAs focus on getting Soldier feedback on new concepts and capabilities with an eye toward reducing acquisition timelines. (U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Steven Hitchcock, 55th Combat Camera)