More than 20 percent of major defense program costs balloon with nothing to show for it.
That’s one conclusion of a Government Accountability Office report illustrating how major defense programs fail to fully define low-level requirements, causing unrealistic estimates for a program’s cost and schedule.
“Programs are proposed with unachievable requirements and overly optimistic cost and schedule estimates, and usually, participants on both the requirements side and the acquisition side are loathe to trade away performance,” the GAO said.
High-level program requirements include key performance parameters and system attributes. Low-level requirements, on the other hand, detail weapon system specifications — think details about required materials, or the size and exact configuration of a fuel tank.
The GAO, in the report issued June 11, recommended that programs more fully realize system engineering before the program starts, translating the high-level requirements into specifics to help curb increased costs and schedule delays.
The GAO conducted a defense acquisition process audit between October 2014 and June 2015, reviewing 78 major and current defense programs. The agency also interviewed 12 current and former military chiefs and vice chiefs.
Seventeen of the 78 major defense acquisition programs had program costs grow more than 20 percent, but 13 of them had no additional key requirements defined. For example, the AIM-9X Block II program, a short-range air-to-air missile with infrared tracking, had a 114 percent change in development costs without any key performance parameter increases.
Of the 78 programs, only five reported key performance parameter changes, which can include new technology or program components.
The number of requirements can exponentially increase once the subsystems and program components are fully defined. The F-35 joint strike fighter program, for example, developed 3,600 specifications to meet nine key performance parameters. Program costs and delays greatly increased because of poorly defined requirements and immature technologies, the GAO found.
In the case of the Army’s canceled Future Combat System — an effort to equip combat brigades with integrated systems — the program was approved to have seven key performance parameters. But those main parameters resulted in more than 50,000 low-level requirements.
“Requirements are insufficiently defined at program start,” the GAO concluded. “When their full consequences are realized, trade-offs are harder to make – cost increases and schedule delays become the preferred solutions.”
Many of the military service chiefs and vice chiefs interviewed expressed concern that requirements are added to increase the “scope and capabilities” of the weapon systems. They also felt the programs failed to deliver operation capabilities in the previously expected time and money constraints.