Chapter 14—
Maintaining the Technological Lead

Mark L. Montroll

If, unhappily, there should be another war, there should be no need for another OSRD [Office of Scientific Research and Development]. It will be needed only if there is a large deficit of military research such as existed in 1940. With the experience of World War II behind them, our military leaders should not permit that to happen. But if it is not to happen, there should be more adequate research within the Services and a more adequate use made of civilian research by the Services in the years immediately ahead.

— Irvin Stewart,
Organizing Scientific Research for War, 1948

Throughout World War II, Vannevar Bush directed the immensely successful Office of Scientific Research and Development (OSRD). The agency was winding down when, in fall 1946, Bush articulated his startling observation:

World War II was the first war in human history to be affected decisively by weapons unknown at the outbreak of hostilities. This is probably the most significant military fact of our decade: that upon the current evolution of the instrumentalities of war, the strategy and tactics of warfare must now be conditioned. In World War II this new situation demanded a closer linkage among military men, scientists, and industrialists than had ever before been required, primarily because the new weapons whose evolution determines the course of war are dominantly the products of science, as is natural in an essentially scientific and technological age.1

Throughout the Cold War, the linkages of which Dr. Bush spoke were nurtured and strengthened. Since the collapse of the Berlin Wall in 1989, which marked the end of the Cold War, these linkages and their supporting infrastructures have begun to fray. This breakdown is a cause for alarm because today, just as in the 1940s, scientific advances and technological innovations are the foundation upon which the great military transformations of the 21st century will depend.

The world is again on the precipice of instability. During the 1990s, armies throughout most of the world were not posted on front lines engaging in mortal combat, nor were the inhabitants of great nations living in constant fear of immediate and deadly attack. Societies were stable, and people throughout most of the world went about their daily lives unfettered by external military threats. This did not mean, however, that humankind had eradicated armed conflict, nor that conflicting national vital interests would never again lead to global wars. One need only to look at the current situation in the Middle East, some parts of Africa, or some areas of the Balkans to see conflict brewing. Indeed, on September 11, 2001, a new episode of active conflict was begun. With the destruction of the World Trade Center in New York and the attacks on the Pentagon and aboard United Flight 93, a new wave of asymmetric violence was unleashed on the world.

The global security environment is ever changing, and all aspects of our military structure are undergoing dramatic transformations to remain at the vanguard of peace and security. Our forces again have been deployed to foreign shores to thwart a military adversary attempting to undermine the goals of the Nation.

If these transformations are to succeed, the processes used to acquire the new tools of war, as well as the research and development (R&D) infrastructure upon which they depend, must be transformed to meet the emerging requirements. Links between the military, the scientific communities, and the industrial communities are more vital now than they have ever been. The facilities, organizations, and acquisition processes that have begun to bend under the weight of scarce resource allocations, an aging workforce, and conflicting priorities threaten to undermine the current transformation processes described in the other chapters of this book. If the situation is not managed with care and diligence, it will fall prey to Irvin Stewart’s warning of 1948: we will be faced with a large deficit of military research such as existed in 1940. The lessons of history will be lost, and our military forces will suffer the consequences as they engage on the battlefield.

The military transformation process will only be successful if defense R&D processes and rapid procurement processes are properly focused and tightly coupled. This chapter examines four R&D issues that enable rapid procurement and introduces a few policy options available to ensure that advanced technology development remains available to defense planners. We examine the role of the internal defense R&D infrastructure, the industrial R&D infrastructure, and the processes that have been established to link R&D outputs closely with rapid procurement, fielding of new technologies and systems, and the effect of major program acquisition strategies on research and development.


What was startling and revolutionary 55 years ago is ordinary and commonplace today. New instrumentalities of war are routinely introduced into each new conflict. Weapons, tactics, and strategies that were introduced into one conflict may be decisive factors in the next war and be mainstream tools by the following one. Concepts that are decisive in a target-rich environment require fundamentally different tools in a target-sparse environment. The rest of the world studies U.S. procedures and develops asymmetrical responses for the next conflict.

In short, although the arms race associated with the attrition-based strategy of the Cold War era may be over, the technological race associated with the information-based strategy of the current era is just beginning. If the technology gap is sufficiently large, information-based strategies may prove decisive in network-centric warfare environments. Should this gap close, with the adversary successfully utilizing symmetric information warfare strategies or asymmetric strategies, the network-centric environment collapses and becomes a classical attrition-warfare environment. Maintaining a U.S. advantage requires constant improvements, which depend in turn on research and development.

Internal Research and Development Infrastructure

Since the earliest days of the Nation, the military services have owned and operated their own internal R&D facilities in conjunction with the old arsenal system. Today, all of the services have organizations that sponsor and facilities that perform science and technology (S&T) research. The Army Research Laboratory, the Naval Research Laboratory, and the Air Force Research Laboratory are the core internal S&T labs for their respective services. The Office of Naval Research and the Offices of Scientific Research for the Army and Air Force sponsor S&T research, utilizing universities to conduct most of the research. In addition to the primary S&T labs, all of the services also operate a number of research facilities tied to their system acquisition commands. For example, the Naval Sea Systems Command manages the labs associated with the Naval Surface Warfare Center and the Naval Undersea Warfare Center. The Army’s Tank and Automotive Command manages a vehicle R&D lab; the Air Force manages aeronautics and avionics R&D labs throughout the country.

The daily activities at the in-house defense research laboratories are governed by three key forces: priorities and policies established by the chain-of-command authorities, program requirements established by paying sponsors, and external constraints such as environmental limitations imposed by other regulatory and policymaking organizations. By controlling or influencing any or all of these elements, the Army, Navy, and Air Force can influence their laboratories to serve their current and emerging priorities. However, even in a single service, no single person or institution controls all three of these forces. As a result, a dynamic mix of competing forces combines to form a swirl of ever-changing activity at each of the research labs.

It is precisely this high level of seemingly chaotic activity that, when properly managed, gives the labs an exceptional degree of agility and flexibility. These qualities allow the labs, quickly and efficiently, to create, analyze, and synthesize new ideas and concepts that become the bases of new and innovative military systems. This same behavior, if not skillfully administered, can also lead to inefficiencies, irrelevancies, and redundancies within the labs. Thus, the service laboratories’ ability to perform their critical role—bonding military requirements, scientific knowledge, and technological innovation to create useful and achievable military system concepts—depends directly on their leaders’ ability to balance the multiplicity of forces acting on their labs.

These internal R&D labs have traditionally focused their efforts on supporting the major acquisition programs within their parent commands. As military transformation progresses, all the services are generating radically new system requirements. To support the emerging military missions outlined in chapter 1, smaller, lighter, and more agile major systems are being demanded throughout the military. As discussed in more detail in chapter 2, the sensing, communication, and information processing subsystem requirements necessary to support the major systems are also being rapidly transformed, demanding the latest cutting-edge technologies to sustain them.

The rapid pace of technological advancement and of identifying emerging system and subsystem requirements to support the military transformation is redefining the role of internal defense research facilities. Scientists are being called upon to examine new areas of study, to focus on extremely rapid transition from concept to fielded system, and to integrate modern high-tech concepts with legacy fleet systems.

This approach presents a dilemma analogous to issues faced in the procurement world. In the constrained resource environment of the defense laboratory system, spending funds on improving legacy systems leaves little money to fund leading-edge transformation-enabling technologies. If the funds are diverted to transformation-enabling technologies, legacy improvement research is curtailed. Since the source of funding for the labs is usually major system program offices, almost all of which are developing systems introduced before DOD embarked on its current military transformation process, the labs are often directed to focus their expertise on legacy and evolutionary improvement programs. To change this focus, new sources of funding must be identified, or funding from legacy-related systems must be redirected.

Both these cases present issues that are extremely complex but that must be overcome by the research facilities. For example, people, skills, and facilities may be mismatched as a laboratory changes its focus. The testing facilities important for the development of tracked vehicles may be a burden to maintain as the research shifts to developing wheeled vehicles. People with vast experience developing avionics for manned aircraft may be less capable of conducting leading-edge research in avionics for un­anned aircraft. In light of all these issues, attention must be paid to maintaining the true technological leadership needed to enable the ongoing military transformation.

Technological Leadership

Maintaining a true technological lead, as a nation, is a very complex process. It requires continuous, careful orchestration of numerous enterprises, both public and private. Over 4,000 governmental organizations in the United States sponsor or conduct scientific research;2 DOD alone accounts for over 700 of them. Almost 2,000 U.S. university facilities are involved in the conduct of scientific research.3

In 1947, DOD was spending around $3 billion for R&D activities. Today, it spends around $48 billion per year.4 Although this level of spending should be sufficient to keep the military equipped and trained to use systems at the leading edge of technology, many disparate forces keep us from reaching that elusive goal. Because the $48 billion is spread across many organizations and is managed by many different constituencies, appropriating the level of funding necessary to carry out adequate and timely research for a specific project is often difficult. In addition, since Federal funding of research is an element of the political process, funding decisions are made on an annual basis, sometimes to the detriment of the long-term stability of the project’s funding.

Workforce Issues

Workforce issues of particular concern include the aging of a trained and expert workforce without replenishment; pay disparities at entry level, compared to the private sector; a less-than-optimal apprenticeship or mentoring system; and decaying infrastructure.

Aging Workforce

Since World War II, government laboratories have hired scientists and engineers in waves. Major hiring occurred in the late 1940s and early 1950s as the defense establishments sought to capture the expertise developed during the war and to follow the guidance of research policy experts to strengthen the permanent research establishment lest the country face another deficit of science like that encountered before the war. Another significant hiring spell took place during the early 1960s as the Soviet launch of Sputnik led to a national focus on science and engineering as the solution to society’s ills.

The government found a window of opportunity to hire another wave of researchers in the early 1970s as the commercial market for these professionals dried up and vast numbers were laid off as a result of the dramatic decline of the aerospace industry. When the Vietnam War was in full swing, the government had an immediate need for scientific and engineering talent but had a difficult time competing with the aerospace and burgeoning electronics industries for workers. When the commercial industries collapsed, the government took advantage of the situation and filled its labs with new talent. There was another small window of hiring during the early 1980s as President Ronald Reagan led a dramatic defense buildup. The early 1990s saw a small bulge in hiring to begin replacing retiring scientists and engineers who had been hired in the late 1950s, 1960s, and early 1970s. However, it did not begin to approach the necessary replenishment level.

Entry-Level Pay Disparity

Since the first Bush administration, the wide pay disparity at the entry-level and early-career level between engineers and scientists employed in the Federal Government and those employed in the private sector has been recognized. This incongruity was particularly acute during the high-tech boom of the 1990s. Starting salaries for government employees were 20 to 40 percent lower than those offered by the high-tech industry, whose appetite for technical talent seemed insatiable.

This phenomenon was not limited to government employees; it affected the private-sector defense industry as well. Since many major defense contractors use pay scales closely associated with their counterpart government partners, they too had great difficulty attracting new entry-level technical talent for their research positions. Even universities found themselves losing the hiring competition for newly graduated scientists and engineers. The salaries and benefits that Internet startup companies offered were so great that new graduates naturally gravitated toward them.

In the year 2000, the high-tech boom began to turn to a high-tech bust. The marketplace was oversaturated with venture capital and other investment money. Companies could not always produce what they had promised, and even when they did, consumers did not buy their products. As a result, many high-tech companies went out of business, and thousands of engineers and scientists lost their jobs.

Thus, as in the early 1970s when the aerospace industry collapsed, employment with the government and the defense industry (with the long-term stability it has come to represent) once again began to look attractive to engineers and scientists. However, unlike the early 1970s, neither the government nor the defense industry in general was in a hiring mode. They were still responding to the reduced budgets and associated workloads associated with the post-Cold War drawdown.

Low Turnover and Poor Apprenticeship Relationships

As in many other professions, the ability to conduct scientific research and technology development is fostered through a long apprenticeship program. The scientific method, the basis of scientific study and peer review, is a process that demands that new scientific discoveries build upon the old. Without a continuous flow of new people, knowledge of the art of science cannot be passed from one generation to the next. Since the early 1980s, there have been no significant hiring waves of scientists and engineers, other than the very small one of the early 1990s. Even this period came to an abrupt halt when programs began to be canceled and bases began to be closed as the Cold War came to an end. As a result, members of the scientific and engineering workforce today are on average in their late 40s. Many of these people are in their professional prime. This is the time they should be working with a new crop of apprentices to train the next generation of professionals. However, there are few apprentices on the payroll to work with. With nearly 60 percent of the current workforce eligible to retire within 5 years and very few new scientists entering the system, the defense research establishment is already facing severe problems in keeping up with the latest technologies and scientific discoveries.

Decaying Infrastructure

Leading-edge enterprises get to the top and stay there by having leading-edge facilities, but scarcity of recapitalization funds and rapid advances in technology complicate the process of keeping the defense research infrastructure current.

The budget available to the defense research establishment for overhead, including infrastructure capitalization, is at best stable and is in many cases diminishing. At the same time, lab facilities and equipment are both aging and becoming obsolete. As new technologies are developed, new equipment and advanced facilities are required to pursue research. Advanced visualization tools—for example, those that allow scientists to see the effects of structural modifications on turbulence reductions—greatly enhance the research capability of the lab but cost an enormous amount of money. Such money is not normally budgeted into the research program, but without this equipment, the lab ceases to be a state-of-the-art facility capable of performing leading-edge research.

Like the debate in the healthcare industry over how many expensive pieces of equipment are needed in each city and where they should be placed, the defense research establishment is faced with the dilemma of where to situate its scarce infrastructure resources. When a new but very expensive investigative tool is developed that directly supports the defense research mission, where should it be located? The tool could be placed in a government laboratory, with access provided to both university researchers and defense contractor researchers. It could be placed at a university, with access available to government and contractor researchers. It could be placed at contractor facilities, with access granted to both university and government researchers.

This debate raises the question of research facility rationalization, part of a larger process: the whole defense establishment in the United States is currently working through the issues associated with infrastructure rationalization. How many military bases should we have to support the future defense force structure? What is the appropriate mix of public and private facilities necessary to support the defense mission? The research establishment is part of this debate. It is looking at issues such as¹what mix of university, private industry, and government research facilities is appropriate and necessary to support the defense research mission of the transforming force structures.

Defense Research Industrial Base in Support of Transformation

The defense research industrial base is undergoing dramatic changes as rapidly as the internal research infrastructure is. Indeed, the whole defense industrial base is being consolidated and redefined as a result of the post-Cold War defense downsizing. In the early 1990s, the government reassessed its defense procurement requirements and acquisition budgets. As a result, the defense market power shrank relative to the overall economy, and industry reacted by significantly consolidating across many product lines. Only four major prime contractors remain of over 50 separate companies that supported aerospace defense requirements in 1990 (see figure 14-1).



Companies in the defense industry reacted to the post-Cold War drawdown by adopting one of three strategies: exiting the military-industrial sector; diversifying into nonmilitary production or services; or remaining in the defense industry and expanding military production.

The government reacted by relaxing antitrust rule interpretations, defining competitive markets on a global basis, encouraging global competition, promoting consolidations where economies of scale matter, and transferring system-integration function and expertise from the government to prime contractors.

The effect of these practices and policies was to reduce significantly the number of industrial facilities available to engage in defense research. In addition, the government no longer encouraged industrial companies to use their own funds to support research programs with the hope of being rewarded with large procurement contracts. The research and procurement of many systems were decoupled.

One other factor influenced industrial research: the consolidation of the industrial base left many of the largest companies with enormous debts that needed to be serviced from their current cash flow. This caused some companies to reduce their internal expenditures—in some cases,
research expenditures—in many areas that did not directly contribute to near-term revenue.

Both the government and its industrial partners are developing processes to link research activities that support the military transformation process closely to the industrial base that will be required to manufacture the systems and provide them to the deployed forces.

Rapid Fielding of New Technologies and Systems

During the 1990s, to provide a means for rapidly fielding new concepts, DOD and the services introduced several significant transition processes. In the early 1990s, Advanced Technology Demonstrations were introduced and managed by the individual services to identify and demonstrate technologies that showed great promise to serve urgent operational needs. In 1994, DOD introduced the Advanced Concept Technology Demonstrations (ACTD) program to “allow users to gain an understanding of proposed new capabilities for which there is no user experience base.” The Joint Staff established Joint Experimentation Programs in 1998 to allow operational forces to experiment with novel technological advances to compress the time required to field advanced capabilities. This process provides a means of getting technological advances rapidly into the hands of the fighting forces, even before initiation of formal procurement actions. In addition, in the late 1990s, the Navy introduced the Future Naval Capabilities (FNC) program to link the research community and the operating forces. Both the Air Force and the Army are currently working on similar programs. At the policy level, the concepts of reconstitution, “develop and hold,” and acquisition reform tended to dominate. Implementation and ramifications of some sort of reconstitution policy set the research agenda. How can the research infrastructure be shaped so that future military systems will retain an enduring technological edge even as the force structure and its supporting elements are being reduced? A proposed solution to this issue was a policy recommendation that the United States continue to develop advanced military systems, bringing them completely through the concept and development phase all the way up to the actual full-scale procurement phase. At this point, the program would be shelved and the system procurement package would await a future time when pressing operational requirements would necessitate actual procurement. This proposed develop-and-hold policy was the source of numerous debates. Neither the operational forces nor the research communities felt it was an optimum solution.

From these debates, a new policy issue emerged: How could the research infrastructure, needed as a foundation during some future reconstitution phase, be preserved if current requirements and budgets could not support its ongoing operations? The formal policy of encouraging and even mandating technology transfer to civilian uses emerged as the most promising solution to this issue. Under this scenario, government researchers would develop intellectual property that could be licensed to commercial enterprises in return for a stream of royalty payments made to the government research facility. The nonappropriated, privately secured royalties would be used to help maintain the research facility, supplementing the federally appropriated funds it normally receives for this purpose.

Over time, however, it appeared that depending on nondefense organizations to support the defense research infrastructure was not going to be a viable policy. Toward the end of the decade, acquisition reform took hold as the primary formal means of rapidly linking advanced research developments and emerging operational requirements. The acquisition process was to be transformed from a linear sequence—develop, procure, create operational doctrine, and train forces to use the system—to a nonlinear, concurrent process: develop system and doctrine together, procure, and train together. This was aimed at considerably compressing the time from concept identification to actual field operation.

Advanced Technology Demonstrations

In the early 1990s, the defense research community faced a difficult and unforeseen challenge. Basic and early applied research programs were being reduced in scope or eliminated just as they were reaching maturity. Many new research programs had been started or old ones enhanced during the strong defense buildup of the mid-1980s. By the early 1990s, many of these programs were at the point of fruition but had not yet fully matured when the programs they were meant to support were eliminated. The technology was still showing great promise, but program managers were hard-pressed to show how the fully developed technologies could transition into ongoing procurement programs. Without the ability to show a clear transition path, even very promising research programs were in danger of being canceled. To remedy this, the Advanced Technology Demonstration (ATD) process was established.

The purpose of the ATD process was to identify the most promising technological advancements being made in the ongoing research programs and to fund them fully (around $15 million) for 3 years in order to develop their potential on an extraordinary fast track. Each service allocated a percentage of its annual research budget to fund a few of the highest-priority ATDs. Each service also developed its own method for choosing which programs would be funded as ATDs, but all of them required a firm link between the researchers and potential users of the technology. Most programs funded under the ATD program had a program manager of an ongoing acquisition program who would commit both philosophically and fiscally to use the technology at the end of the ATD program if it lived up to its expectations.

Over the years, many successful transitions were made from ATDs to system procurements. For example, the Advanced Enclosed Mast/Sensor built by Ingalls Shipyard and installed on the Navy destroyer USS Radford at the Norfolk Naval Shipyard was developed as an ATD by the Naval Surface Warfare Center Carderock Division; it is currently specified for inclusion on all LPD-17 class ships.5

Because of the instability of the overall defense procurement budgets, however, some ATDs that were successful as research programs were never fully integrated into procurement programs. Even in these cases, the ATD process proved useful. Researchers were encouraged to meet with acquisition program sponsors and operating forces to examine how advancements in technology could serve the needs of the operating forces. This alone went a long way to help reshape many research programs to be more responsive to emerging operational requirements, even if the proposed ATDs were not approved for funding.

Some limitations to the ATD process pointed to the need to reexamine its scope. Although the typical funding of $15 million was a large sum of money for some research programs, it became clear that the ATD process could not fully support advances in computer technology, communications, and data fusion and processing technologies as these grew during the 1990s. Meanwhile, commercial enterprises matured these technologies without defense sponsorship. DOD therefore began looking for ways to capture these new concepts and demonstrate their utility for defense-related requirements.

Advanced Concept Technology Development

DOD introduced the ACTD program in early 1994 to help encourage and expedite the rapid transition of emerging matured technologies from researchers and developers to the operational users. Since the ACTD process focused on matured technologies, it emphasized technology assessment and integration over technology development. Nonetheless, it served as an interim step from the research lab to the operational field.

A typical ACTD lasts about 4 years and operates on a budget of approximately $100 million. Another significant feature of an ACTD is that, by definition, it has some level of jointness built into it. The concept that an ACTD is demonstrating must contribute to the mission of more than one service. Each of the participating services is required to partially fund the program with its own funds.

The goal of an ACTD is to provide operational commanders with actual prototypes of advanced systems that demonstrate unique military capabilities. Having prototypes gives the operational commanders a way to evaluate and indeed shape the potential system’s ability to meet operational needs. It also allows commanders to develop and refine a concept of operations to exploit the capability under evaluation. As the operating forces gain experience and understanding of the capability through realistic military demonstrations of prototype systems, they are better able to assess the military efficacy of the proposed capability.

A number of successful capabilities have been evaluated and shaped through the ACTD process. The medium-altitude endurance unmanned aerial vehicle, Predator, was one of the earliest ACTDs to be funded. It was flown and operated in Bosnia even before the ACTD was over, and it has been used extensively in Afghanistan during Operation Enduring Freedom. It has since transitioned into a mainstream acquisition program.

The ACTD process has proven quite effective at identifying emerging technological capabilities with high potential operational application. It gives the services an opportunity to test an application before buying it. In the environment of very rapidly changing technology advancements, however, the process can seem slow; one must first build a prototype system, deploy it to the field, develop concepts of operation for its use, conduct operations with the system, and then evaluate its military effectiveness. By the time this process has been completed, it may be difficult and expensive to modify the system to take advantage of the knowledge gained during the demonstration phase.

Joint Experimentation Program

Toward the end of the decade, the Joint Staff introduced the Joint Experimentation program. The purpose of joint experimentation is to examine new technologies, operational concepts, and force structure (organization) options together rather than in isolation from one another to discover and develop advances in warfighting capabilities. Joint experimentation allows warfighters access to new technologies before systems utilizing them are fully developed. In this way, operational commanders can assess the utility of emerging technologies and modify the technological developments early in the development process so that they will be more useful to the operating forces.

The Joint Experimentation Office (J-9) was established in Norfolk, Virginia, to manage the program. It gives the research community a new way to link closely with the operational forces. Concepts identified in the research lab can be introduced into the joint experimentation process even before they are fully developed. This allows the researcher to understand whether the concept is worth pursuing from a military perspective, and, if it is, which aspects should be emphasized. In addition, it allows the operating forces to see developments in the research lab long before they are available for field use. This gives forces the opportunity to begin developing doctrine and training programs while the concept is still being developed. It also allows the operational forces to have more direct input into the direction that research programs will take.

All three of these technology transition processes have helped both the researchers and the operational forces link to focus their efforts and set priorities for the use of scarce research budgets. They are only really effective at advancing operational capabilities if they are closely linked to the acquisition and procurement process. If great new technologies and capabilities are identified and developed but not procured and fielded, the operational forces cannot take advantage of their capabilities.

Acquisition Reform

Throughout the past decade, acquisition reform has changed the way DOD procures and fields new systems. Technology was improving so rapidly that the traditional acquisition process could not keep pace. New platforms and systems were being delivered with technology that was obsolete, expensive to operate, and difficult to maintain. Utilization of commercial off-the-shelf components made defense systems more dependent on commercial spare parts inventories, and when commercial companies changed their products, defense systems were no longer supportable. To compress the time from approval of an acquisition program to fielding of the operational system and thus speed the time for development, new initiatives were introduced into the acquisition process.

Under the traditional acquisition process, systems were procured in a sequence. First research was done, then the engineering completed, then the system went into production, and finally the system was evaluated by the operating forces and integrated into operational capabilities. This process was useful when the technology being integrated into new systems had not yet matured because it ensured that only fully developed technologies were embedded into new systems. However, as ATDs and ACTDs as well as commercial technological advancements began to yield new concepts faster than the traditional process could accommodate them, a new process of concurrent development had to be introduced.

Utilizing concurrent development, integrated engineering (supported by ongoing research) and production occurred simultaneously. Like the traditional process, the introduction into operational doctrine and training programs took place after the system was placed in the field. Although this speeded up the process, operational forces had few feedback loops to the developers to help shape the systems to the operators’ needs. This process did, however, allow the efficient integration of ATDs and ACTDs into the acquisition process.

After the Joint Experimentation program was introduced, the acquisition process was modified to allow for direct transition from ATDs and ACTDs into production, coupled closely with user input throughout the process. Utilizing an experimentation-demonstration-acquisition process, integrated engineering (supported by ongoing research) and operational evaluation occur simultaneously. Only after the system is refined through the interaction of both the users and the developers is it put into production. Production runs are scheduled and the system is designed so that the latest technology can be integrated into the system during each succeeding run. This methodology links the researchers, developers, and users as never before.

Future Naval Capabilities

In the late 1990s, the Navy introduced a new process for closely coupling its research activity with the requirements of its operating forces. Supporting all of the ongoing research activities at levels high enough to ensure that significant progress could be achieved in time to influence high-priority naval requirements was impossible with the limited research resources available. To direct its scarce resources, the Navy established the Future Naval Capabilities program.

Senior leadership of both the research and the operations communities meet to establish several specific research priorities. This priority-setting process enables the Navy to focus its resources and attention on significant projects. The close coupling of the research and operations community ensures that the research directly supports emerging operational requirements and the Navy transformation process.

The Army, through its Future Combat System focus, and the Air Force, through its Lightning Bolts and Agile Acquisition initiatives, are currently employing comparable priority-setting procedures within their research communities.

Acquisition Strategy and Research and Development

Many platform acquisition programs are experimenting with practices derived from private industry, delegating the jobs of developing, identifying, and specifying advanced technological solutions to the prime contractor. Rather than specifying the details of platform procurement, the government sets the performance specification and asks the prime vendor to deliver a platform that performs as requested. Private industry uses this process as the primary means of acquisition, paying the vendor only after the product is tested and delivered. In contrast, the government usually pays the vendor progress payments, so that by the end of the procurement, the vendor has been paid 90 percent of the cost of the item. Under this practice, the government assumes the risk of, but does not have the same level of control over, the internal decisions.

An attribute of the new acquisition strategy is that the government assigns the role of product and process development, including the supporting research, to the prime vendor. Research funds that in the past were provided to in-house government research laboratories are now given directly to the prime vendors. This process has both positive and negative attributes.

Directly funding the prime vendors assures a very close coupling of the research with product development. It enables the prime vendor to have full control of the research priorities and ensures that the research is focused on current requirements. In contrast, when government labs perform research without prime vendor interaction, the coupling between the progress and results of the research and the needs of the prime vendor may be weak. Differences in management structures have meant that research and production schedules are not always synchronized as well as they could be.

Direct funding of research by vendors also produces a few areas of concern for defense research. Three issues include technology migration to other programs, strategic integration across services, and long-term technological stewardship.

When research is conducted in a government facility, the results of that research usually are available to any government program that can utilize them. In contrast, the results of research conducted in a private facility utilizing program-specific funding may not be available to competing programs or vendors. In fact, the results may not even be made public; complementing programs might not know they exist. This secrecy has the effect of limiting and constraining technology migration that might otherwise accrue to government-funded research.

In the same vein, funding vendors for program-specific research may complicate government efforts to rationalize and prioritize its research programs across all of the military services. Coordinating research programs among the Army, Navy, and Air Force enables all of the services to take advantage of advanced technologies developed by any one of them. To keep the close contact across the services that this type of coordination requires, new management processes will need to be established that recognize the vendors’ role in research priority-setting.

DOD and the services’ in-house research laboratories have traditionally been the long-term stewards of the technological disciplines associated with their missions. In between major acquisitions programs, in-house laboratories keep a workforce current with the latest techniques and processes so that when the next program begins, the research does not need to start again. Research is a continuous process, requiring continuity of knowledge, processes, and techniques—and of personnel and the mentor-apprenticeship relationship discussed above. If each new research program is placed at a different facility, based solely on the identity of the prime contractor of a major acquisition program, this continuity will be broken.

Diminished Paths for Transition

The defense drawdown associated with the end of the Cold War decreased the number of platforms being developed. As a result, there are fewer sponsors of platform-associated research and fewer transition paths for research results to migrate. A typical measure of the effectiveness of a research establishment is how well it contributes to new products. If only one ship is being designed at any one time and a number of organizations are developing new technologies for ships, most of the new concepts will not be integrated into that new class of ship because of scheduling and cost constraints. Thus, utilizing traditional metrics, many of the research programs will be deemed failures due to their inability to transition to production in the near term, even if they have made great scientific or technological discoveries. This stigmatization is an artifact of the different timelines associated with research and acquisition.

Research operates in an extended timeframe. Discoveries made today may not be utilized for decades, until some other enabling development allows their potential to be fully exploited. But, when new findings are finally incorporated, they may enable profound advancements in the final products into which they are imbedded.

Acquisition programs, on the other hand, operate over relatively shorter time periods. A research program that cannot provide results in time to meet the acquisition program’s tight development schedule will not be utilized in that program. Since, by definition, research discoveries cannot be guaranteed to meet a production schedule, most of the research must be accomplished before the acquisition program needs the results. Often, the basic research must be completed before the acquisition program begins so that the technology developed by the research program can be integrated into a new product.

The effect of these different timeframes, coupled with the policy of assigning the research role to the prime vendors, yields another area of concern in the ability of the research establishment to support the ongoing defense transformation. If prime vendors of major acquisition programs are also the primary performers of defense research, new processes will need to be established to ensure continuity of research during the period between acquisition programs. In addition, new processes will need to be established to ensure that the results of government-funded research are made available to all users, not just the single prime vendor who performs the research.

While some acquisition programs use direct-vendor funding of research, the practice is not ubiquitous. In many situations, both government in-house laboratories and prime-vendor facilities are performing complementary research. A mix of government, private, and university research is the result. Balancing these to support the transformation of the services is the major challenge of the near future.

Business Model

While the defense acquisition community is working to ensure that its research establishment is shaped and focused to support the military transformation process, private nondefense high-technology companies are also reexamining their research processes. A primary focus is on rationalizing the “make-versus-buy” decision. Many of the largest and most successful industrial companies, such as RCA and Xerox, have begun divesting themselves of their in-house dedicated research laboratories, while others such as IBM and General Electric continue to support and depend on their world-renowned in-house research facilities.

In fast-growing industries, especially the electronics industry, large corporations are increasingly looking outside their walls for new products and processes to offer their customers. For example, other companies initially developed many of the products that are now in Microsoft’s inventory. Like almost all high-tech companies, Microsoft has a staff whose mission is to search the outside world and identify products, processes, services, and companies that complement their product line. When they find something they like, they purchase the rights to use it in Microsoft’s inventory; in some cases, Microsoft purchases the whole company to get access to the new technology. Many opportunities exist for DOD to use this practice to satisfy its technology requirements by looking to independent entrepreneurs and nondefense-related industries for already developed advanced technologies.

Policy Options

Successful transformation of the military to a knowledge-based force structure requires new operational concepts, new equipment to support them, and new training processes to integrate the operational concepts and advanced equipment with the fighting forces. Maintaining the technological lead in the U.S. military means that all three factors—concepts, equipment, and training—must be on the forward edge of technology. Force planners and concept generators must understand what advanced technology solutions can offer, while technologists must comprehend the requirements of emerging operational concepts. Both force planners and technologists need to work with the force trainers to ensure that the fighting forces know how to carry out the advanced operational concepts using advanced equipment suites.

Continuously integrating advanced operational concepts supported by the most advanced technological equipment into U.S. fighting forces is key to sustaining their competitive advantage. Over the past 50 years, the United States has developed a research and technology infrastructure to nurture and sustain advanced technological development related to the military mission. Many processes were developed to enhance the efficiency of technological transition from the lab to the fighting forces. This is a continuous process that evolves with the changing environment.

The most important issue in the current environment, from the technological perspective, is ensuring that forces have operational concepts that enable them to perform their mission and that they have the equipment that most efficiently supports their needs. A fighting unit in the heat of battle does not care who invented the technology they are using or who perfected its integration into warfighting equipment—only that they have it, it works, and they know how to use it.

In light of all of the issues and obstacles described in this chapter, it is the responsibility of both the operating and the technology communities to develop processes and procedures aimed at supporting future operations efficiently. Technologists from all different environments must participate. In-house government research labs must identify and integrate advanced technological concepts into advanced fighting equipment to support advanced operational concepts. Universities and other private research organizations participate by conducting the basic-level scientific research from which advanced technological solutions to emerging problems could be developed. Defense contractors take part in developing and incorporating advanced technological concepts into the weapons and platform systems they design and build. Nondefense industrial enterprises have a role to play in inventing and developing advanced technological concepts that, even while supporting their own industries, can be carried over to serve defense requirements.

Although many of the policies and processes currently in place remain important and serve to manage the technological integration process, a few improvements should be considered, especially in the areas of workforce stability and integration, as well as technology identification and integration.

Workforce Stability and Integration

The defense community is facing a crisis concerning its technological workforce as a result of the salary disparity with nondefense private industry and previous hiring patterns. Many senior technologists may leave defense service in the near future, and the mentor-apprentice chain will be broken. The government can do a few things about this.6 Many initiatives related to pay levels and monetary incentives are under consideration already. Supporting these incentives alone is not sufficient.

In light of the new environment in which prime vendors are increasingly being assigned more responsibilities with respect to technological development and integration, the government should institute processes that foster mentor-apprenticeships across organizational boundaries. For example, junior engineers and scientists employed by government research labs should be assigned as apprentices to senior technologists and developers employed by prime vendors. Employees of prime vendors should be placed as interns and fellows at government or university facilities.

During periods of intense activity in an acquisition program, technologists from government laboratories should be routinely called upon to support the prime vendors. During periods of slack activity between acquisition programs, technologists from the defense industry should be asked to support research at the government laboratories. These processes will ensure that technologists on all sides of the partnership are current and that technology flows freely across organizational boundaries.

Technology Identification and Integration

Although the existing research and technology infrastructure will remain an important element in the future, new processes must also be developed for rapid identification of technological advances taking place outside of the defense industry that could support advanced operational concepts being developed by the military. Better mechanisms are needed for acquiring and integrating these technological advances into operational concepts. For example, the advances in communications technologies and in power systems (batteries) are taking place rapidly, but U.S. troops sometimes miss the opportunity to use them because the acquisition process can be so cumbersome. Programs such as ACTD and the Joint Experimentation program were developed to help alleviate this problem, but neither of these is a direct acquisition process; both of them are “research” programs.

The government should create a direct acquisition process under which “technology spotters” identify products developed in the commercial marketplace, procure them, and integrate them directly into field use. The acquisition funds could continue to be managed by the individual services in accordance with Title 10 rules, but direct linkages would be established between the technology acquisition team and the operating units. This process would not work in every situation; for example, with major platform procurements, the full acquisition and testing processes will always be necessary. However, in a world of rapid technological advancement and standardization, many new products, especially at the subsystem level, could be simply purchased and used immediately in the field.


In a December 11, 2001, speech to the students at The Citadel in Charleston, South Carolina, 3 months after the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, President George W. Bush said:

While the threats to America have changed, the need for victory has not. We are fighting shadowy, entrenched enemies—enemies using the tools of terror and guerrilla war—yet we are finding new tactics and new weapons to attack and defeat them. This revolution in our military is only beginning, and it promises to change the face of battle....The Predator is a good example. This unmanned aerial vehicle is able to circle over enemy forces, gather intelligence, transmit information instantly back to commanders, then fire on targets with extreme accuracy. Before the war, the Predator had skeptics, because it did not fit the old ways. Now it is clear the military does not have enough unmanned vehicles....What’s different today is our sense of urgency—the need to build this future force while fighting a present war. It’s like overhauling an engine while you’re going at 80 miles an hour. Yet we have no other choice.

Advanced technological development by itself is clearly not sufficient to ensure a successful military transformation. Coupled with advances in doctrine, strategy, tactics, and training, however, advanced technology is a significant force multiplier.7 Maintaining our technological lead in the future will be critical to the operations of our fighting forces. Technologists, operators, and acquisition specialists together can create and implement the policies so vital to ensuring this critical requirement.

 Acquisition Reform and Spiral Development

The private sector, driven by market forces, is arguably more efficient in the development, production, and sustainment of new products and systems. As such, the focus of early acquisition reform initiatives has been on the adoption of best commercial practices to reduce costs and improve the quality and sustainability of Department of Defense (DOD) weapons systems. For example, emphasis was placed on eliminating numerous unique military specifications and standards in favor of commercial specifications and standards. Other important commercially derived initiatives include the adoption of integrated process and product development, single process initiative, and performance-based specifications.

Each of these initiatives has reduced the costs of acquiring and sustaining weapons systems. However, lengthy cycle times—that is, the time from initiation of an acquisition program to initial operational capability—has continued to plague defense acquisition. Data taken on programs during the 1980s and 1990s indicate the average cycle time for large defense programs is slightly more than 11 years. Current programs such as the F-22 and Joint Strike Fighter are projected to exceed 15 years. Clearly, long cycle times are exacerbated by the highly complex nature of modern weapons systems such as the F-22. Cycle times are also negatively impacted by inefficient funding profiles that stretch development time. Largely, though, long cycle times are the result of the highly structured, risk-adverse DOD serial product development process of sequential developmental phases and milestones—the so-called DOD 5000 process. As such, a current focus of
acquisition reform and the intent of the recent rewrite of the DOD 5000.1 and 5000.2 instructions is to establish a more flexible, streamlined process for the development of new weapons systems.

The new product development process, known as spiral development or evolutionary acquisition, promises significantly shorter acquisition cycle times. The stated goal is to reduce cycle times by 50 percent or more. In a test of the new spiral development process, the Air Force has established an ambitious set of pilot programs with a stretch goal for a four to one reduction in cycle time. Assuming success in these pilot efforts, the warfighter will receive new weapons systems and capabilities in less than 3 years on average over the traditional 11-year cycle time average.

The key to the new spiral development process is the familiar 80-20 rule. That is, the user accomplishes 80 percent of the objective with 20 percent of the time and effort, the remaining 20 percent requiring the remaining 80 percent of the time and effort. In the context of product development, the acquisition community would strive to develop an 80-percent solution and field this new capability to the warfighter as rapidly as possible. As such, immature technologies are bypassed in favor of mature technologies, large software integration efforts are broken into core capabilities and advanced capability modules for later development, and growth is built into the initial design to accommodate subsequent or sequential product upgrades or production blocks. As the initial design or block is being refined and produced, parallel design and maturation efforts are begun for subsequent blocks. The riskier technologies are matured and advanced hardware and software are added in later production blocks. At the end of the full product development cycle, several related blocks of weapons systems might have been produced, each more advanced than the previous one—each advancing toward the ultimate user requirement first envisioned.

While the initial 80 percent product solution would not completely satisfy the full operational deficiency, it provides the warfighter a more immediate new capability closer to the desired solution than the current legacy equipment. This also allows the warfighter an opportunity to train and become familiar with employment, doctrine, support, and feedback lessons for incorporation in later blocks.

Spiral development allows production weapons systems to be fielded at more rapid and predictable intervals, each iteration more advanced than the previous spiral. One can clearly understand the notion of evolutionary acquisition as each successive iteration of the weapon system evolves from the initial product design to the final production block, which may require only two or many successive parasequential spirals.

Some may argue that this is merely a reapplication of the lessons of the 1970s and 1980s in which preplanned product improvement and F-16-style block production were common product development strategies. While there is some merit in these observations, the primary difference today in implementing spiral development is the clear motivation to reduce cycle time. In so doing, spiral development will also drive complementary changes in other segments of the product development process, such as a spiral requirements generation process and flexible training and support concepts to develop, field, and sustain new weapons systems more quickly.

—Lt Col Douglas Cook, USAF


 1.  Irvin Stewart, Organizing Scientific Research for War (Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1948). [BACK]

 2. Grant Eldridge, ed., Government Research Center Directory (Detroit: Gale Group, 2001). [BACK]
 3. Peter D. Dresser, ed., Scientific and Technical Organizations and Agencies Directory, 3rd ed. (Detroit: Gale Group, 1994). [BACK]

4. Research, Development, Test, and Evaluation Budget; 2002 Defense Appropriations Bill. [BACK]

5. James D. Hessman et al., “Ingalls Delivers Navy’s First AEM/S Composite Mast,” Sea Power 40, no. 6 (June 1997). [BACK]

6. David S.C. Chu and John P. White, “Ensuring Quality People in Defense,” in Ashton B. Carter and John P. White, Keeping the Edge: Managing Defense for the Future (Cambridge, MA: Massachusetts Institute of Technology Press, 2001). [BACK]

7. Edward Rhodes, Jonathan DiCicco, Sarah Milburn Moore, and Tom Walker, “Forward Presence and Engagement: Historical Insights into the Problem of ‘Shaping’,” Naval War College Review (Winter 2000). [BACK]




Table of Contents  |  Chapter Fifteen