It seems like every day, someone in the Department of Defense (DoD) announces that the old ways of doing business are out and that new, better approaches are now available. This dynamic is especially true in the world of defense acquisition, where there is a collective disparagement toward the acquisition system that brought us today’s world-class military gear.
There is truth to the argument that defense acquisition must change in the face of a new national security environment, but many current acquisition critiques are strangely incomplete.
You will find a bevy of arguments for why today’s acquisition system has too many rules and too many decision-making layers, inhibiting innovation, market access, and speed as a result. Many critiques of how DoD buys are strong, but meaningful critiques of what DoD buys are much less common.
Yes, individual weapon systems are often criticized for excessive cost or not delivering on their promised capabilities. However, the substance of underlying programmatic requirements is much less often meaningfully challenged other than as part of a general critique of the necessity and cost of military modernization.
The one-sided nature of the current acquisition critique is problematic. If we allow our diagnosis of the problem in defense acquisition to remain incomplete, we are highly likely to fail in delivering the capabilities the nation needs.
Form should follow function. We must ensure that we adapt the acquisition system to deliver the systems we need, rather than simply optimize it to deliver the wrong systems more quickly or more cheaply.
Click here for the full report (6 PDF pages) on the CSIS website.