Big 'A' Acquisition

By Lt. Gen. Michael E. WilliamsonDecember 28, 2016

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Achieving dominance starts early, at weapon system design, and continues to procurement, testing and deployment all the way to sustainment and disposal.

In a global security environment that is increasingly uncertain and complex, the threats and challenges of tomorrow will be overcome with the weapon systems and equipment we develop, modernize and procure today. To maintain land force dominance, we must view acquisition as a comprehensive process that takes us from the design of weapon systems to procurement, testing, deployment, sustainment and disposal. Known as "big 'A' acquisition," this process involves many stakeholders, including Congress, the industrial base, the acquisition workforce and, especially, the men and women in uniform who ultimately take these weapons to war.

Decisions made during development and approval of the acquisition strategy have a significant impact on life cycle costs, sustainability and the long-term affordability of a program. This is one of the reasons why the secretary of the Army, the Army chief of staff and other senior leaders are taking a holistic look across the full acquisition spectrum to ensure that we have an agile, affordable system that supports equipping the Solider with the right products at the right time and the right place for mission success.


Agility is an important part of the acquisition process, allowing for flexibility, adaptability and responsiveness. Examples of agile acquisition include the use of modular systems, block-upgrade approaches to system fielding and the use of open system architecture designs and standard interfaces. Innovation is equally important, including the speed and application of new and advanced capabilities for our Soldiers. Experimentation and prototyping are important in achieving the rapid introduction of advanced, game-changing technologies for our Army.

A critical element of our agile and innovative acquisition efforts is the Army Rapid Capabilities Office, a key initiative of the secretary and chief to expedite select capabilities to meet urgent and emerging threats worldwide. Although flexible in its structure, the Rapid Capabilities Office is designed to focus primarily on high-priority, threat-based projects with an intent to deliver an operational effect within the "sweet spot" between the Rapid Equipping Force (about 180 days) and programs of record (5-plus years). Initial focus areas are cyber, electronic warfare, survivability, and position, navigation and timing.

In other areas, we've reinvigorated the Army Requirements Oversight Council (AROC) to be a command-centric hub, allowing the Army to realign in light of opportunities and to make trades across cost, schedule and performance based on available resources. The revitalized AROC process provides several benefits, including clear requirements definition and alignment of a fundamental acquisition strategy to meet Army needs. In terms of requirement definitions, the AROC process solidifies a singular outcome and Army position on specific desired capabilities. Approval at the Army chief of staff level enables detailed analysis and discussion to ensure a single Army position.


We've increased senior leader involvement in the Army Systems Acquisition Review Council (ASARC), which provides senior acquisition managers and functional principals the opportunity to review designated programs at formal milestones to determine whether a program or system is ready to enter the next acquisition phase. The Army acquisition executive is the decision authority. However, the Army vice chief of staff and representatives of the Army chief of staff now regularly attend ASARC meetings to ensure that what the acquisition community is approving has a full vetting across the Army.

We've taken the next step in long-range planning. For the last four years, the Long-range Investment Requirements Analysis (LIRA) has been the Army's process to project over a 30-year period the implications of decisions made in the program objective memorandum. We also had the capability portfolio review (CPR) process, which took a more focused look at a narrow set of capabilities and requirements. This year, by building upon lessons learned, we replaced both the LIRA and CPR processes with the strategic portfolio analysis review (SPAR). The SPAR process injects senior leader guidance earlier and more often and will help us make better-informed decisions on how to build the future Army.


We continue to ensure that system requirements are affordable and do not add excess technical risk to our acquisition programs. Knowledge points identify necessary requirements trade-offs at key decision points. This process is mandatory across all major programs and is a critical factor in achieving a more effective, more affordable and more responsive acquisition system. Knowledge points enable the Army chief of staff to formally review system requirements throughout the development phase. In addition, the Army has instituted affordability caps on new programs to make sure that we can sustainably afford the development and product costs. For example, we made certain that we could afford the Armored Multi-Purpose Vehicle at the same time we were producing the M109A7 Paladin and the Joint Light Tactical Vehicle.

Additionally, we worked closely with the U.S. Army Materiel Command to identify eight core business areas that should always transition once a system moves into sustainment. These business areas include supply chain management, technical assistance, technical data (including equipment technical manuals), sustainment maintenance, field maintenance augmentation, materiel transport, post-fielding analysis and disposal. The Army initiated a formal analysis to review these eight functional areas using five acquisition programs: Stryker, Prophet Enhanced, Shadow Tactical Unmanned Aircraft System, Q-53 Radar and several ammunition projects. We will take the recommendations from the analysis and codify these into Army policy.

In all of our efforts, a disciplined, dedicated, well-educated and experienced workforce is critical to our success. The Army Acquisition Workforce Human Capital Strategic Plan is designed to support every acquisition professional's career from recruitment to retention to retirement by providing strategic tools and systems, effective communication products and personnel support. We must ensure that our civilian and military Army Acquisition Workforce professionals maintain a competitive edge in meeting the equipping needs of our Soldiers.


Throughout our history, America has led the way. When the United States entered World War II, President Franklin D. Roosevelt set an ambitious production goal: 60,000 aircraft, 45,000 tanks and 20,000 anti-aircraft guns. While some thought it would take a miracle, the "indomitable" national spirit and patriotism of Americans prevailed, and the military-industrial complex was born. There was--and is--no limit to what we can achieve together. About a month after Pearl Harbor, President Roosevelt told Congress and the nation that "powerful enemies must be outfought and out-produced." He said, "It is not enough to turn out just a few more planes, a few more tanks, a few more guns, a few more ships than can be turned out by our enemies. We must out-produce them overwhelmingly, so that there can be no question of our ability to provide a crushing superiority of equipment in any theater of the world war."


Today's big "A" acquisition produces the most advanced weapon systems in the world. The great challenge before us is to design, procure, test, deploy and sustain weapons that preserve the technological edge that our Army has always possessed. We are committed to meeting that challenge as we have throughout our history, to ensure that America's Army remains the most formidable ground combat force on Earth.

This article will be published in the January -- March 2017 issue of Army AL&T Magazine.

Related Links:

Army AL&T Magazine

U.S. Army Acquisition Support Center