For non-traditional projects born outside the standard requirements generation process, what does the path to a Program of Record look like (understanding there could be a lot of variation depending on the specifics)?
The mechanics of becoming a Program of Record is simple in theory but is often difficult in practice. Simply put, you need to complete four areas: (1) approved requirement documentation, (2) funding, (3) an approved Acquisition Strategy, and (4) permission for a new start. AFI 10-601 Capabilities-Based Requirements Development gives guidance based on the size of the program on what type of requirement document is needed. Normally, on a large program an Initial capability Document (ICD) will be necessary which follows the DODI 5000.02 process. For smaller programs and modifications to larger programs the AF uses an AF Form 1067. Again, AFI 10-601 will be your guide. In terms of funding, you need the appropriate R&D, Production, and sustainment funding in the POM process to support the program from cradle to grave. Obviously, you need an ACQ Strategy that integrates technological risk, development, production, funding, schedule, and contacting to execute the plan. Finally, depending on size, any new program requires permission from Congress to begin. Here AFI 63-101 has some information on requirements for new starts notifications to Congress. Normally, if the program is in the approved President Budget it is considered Congressional notification because Congress approves the budget.