Volume 28, Issue 2, March-April  2014

Taming the Tigers:
Recapturing the Acquisition Excellence of Our Planning, Programming, and Acquisition Three-Ring Circus

In spite of diverse global-security challenges and the specter of decreasing defense budgets, the Air Force must continue to ensure that the United States maintains leading-edge capabilities in air, space, and cyber. During this critical time, the service needs new thinking to expand and fully explore operational and acquisition “trade space,” to optimize decisions informed by better business-case analysis, and, ultimately, to translate short- and long-term war-fighting capability requirements into politically acceptable and executable public-policy decisions. To meet this challenge, the Air Force must better integrate its planning, programming, and acquisition processes. This article presents a new, value-driven approach designed to realize such integration and synchronize the service’s decision cycle. The approach gives Air Force leaders a tool to examine decision trade-offs, identify benefit-maximizing solutions for the cost, and establish an analytically rigorous basis for justifying and communicating recommendations to decision makers at all levels.


Leave a Comment
Roberto Sanchez (Capt, USAF) 3/12/2013 9:08:09 AM

I don't understand how the Air Force doesn't have a shared common value proposition (pg. 10, 1st para). Our mission statement is "To fly, fight, and win ... in air, space, and cyberspace." It seems that every USAF acquisition effort ought to be tied directly to how it supports that mission statement (along with being tied to the mission statements of the various customer/partner organizations along the way). If we aren't doing that, then we are failing. I do agree, however, that we almost entirely lack the ability to calculate value.

Scott Patnode 3/28/2013 9:32:22 AM

I like using this curve, but shouldn't we try to drive costs down to where the curve turns and flattens out. At this point increased costs provide little increased benefit. The rub would be determining the proper curve to maximize.

Jason Gregga 3/28/2013 10:07:25 AM

This is a great article. It does an excellent job of diagnosing some of the thorny issues surrounding decisions the AF makes. I wonder if you are aware of the small-scale value-focused prioritization going on in the AF Development Planning process. Applying this to the AF as a whole will certainly be challenging, but it is necessary. Our current suboptimization of processes doesn't seem to be serving anyone well. One hopes that an effort to develop common values to calculate benefits does not get swallowed by political considerations.

Vic Watkins 3/28/2013 10:07:06 PM

Decide what you will, the implementation of the decision is CRITICAL. Intimate and continuous collaboration between the contractor, contracting, the CTM, the owner, and the user is IMPERATIVE, but seldom achieved. Leaving the implementation of the contract alone until problems rear their ugly head results in failed deliveries. Daily, hand-in-hand working together is the only way to make contracting work. If you don't care enough to work together to make it work, then why do it? Contracting has told me more than once, they don't work for the warfighter. Then who do they work for?

Doug 3/29/2013 5:38:40 PM

Much like art, DoD systems in and of themselves have intangible value. They don’t have real value outside of the DoD’s ‘operational’ value system, producing desired effects within strategic, operational, and tactical constraints. Therefore I suggest that the entertainment industry is probably a closer analogy to the DoD’s problem than most Fortune 500 companies. Instead of trying to define intangible value these companies demonstrate small scale ‘operational’ value through pilots/test screenings prior to making larger capital investments. Why isn’t the DoD using ACTDs more to do the same?

Tom Roberts 3/30/2013 2:48:57 PM

Compare this to Suddarth, "Solving the Great Air Force Systems Irony" [Spring 2002]. The problem with this article is that it attempts to solve acq problems at the SAF or OSD/ATL levels. Suddarth instead concentrates on how specific programs need to be managed and tied to USAF objectives through technically competent program management which support specific system goals. Best value procurement, for Suddarth, is an adjunct to competent system acq management from the bottom up. This article instead proposes a variant of McNamara's Planning, Programming, and Budgeting System (PPBS).

E.J. Wunderlich 6/20/2013 3:21:28 PM

Although I agree that maximizing value for the customer/warfighter is THE proper approach in acquisitions, I disagree that you can place a metric on a warfighting capability. For instance, if I were to use blast radius as a metric, then all missiles would become nuclear. Furthermore, if the stated goal is to maximize value, then the best way to increase value for a system is to foster low level initiative (particularly with acquisitions and warfighter personnel) not to promote a top level decision process.