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International Acquisition & Exportability (IA&E) and Lashley’s Laws

DAU’s Defense Acquisition Magazine recently published a thought provoking article “Lashley’s Laws: You Can Have Anything You Want.” The title is actually a bit of a teaser since – as we all know –…

International Acquisition & Exportability (IA&E) and Lashley’s Laws


  1. Home
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  3. International Acquisition & Exportability (IA&E) and Lashley’s Laws
Frank Kenlon (Prof of Int'l Acq, DAU/DSMC-Int'l)
DAU’s Defense Acquisition Magazine recently published a thought provoking article “Lashley’s Laws: You Can Have Anything You Want.” The title is actually a bit of a teaser since – as we all know – you really can’t have anything you want, either in life or defense acquisition.

His four laws explain why:

  1. You can have anything you want [but] …
  2. You cannot have everything you want [since] …
  3. You decide what you [really] want by what you are willing to give up to get it [and, most importantly] …
  4. If you are unwilling to give up anything, what you will get is nothing that anyone would want.

Back when I was young and still considered trainable, I attended a DoD course where the instructor reminded us that we were all “victims” of our own experience. I suppose that’s why Lashley’s Laws resonate with me since I was part of (or observed) many defense acquisition programs, projects, and activities that foundered because of failing to make tough choices (Law #3) which eventually led to failures (Law #4).

This blog will use Lashley’s Laws to explore why DoD International Acquisition and Exportability (IA&E) -- a domain that provides numerous operational, political-military, economic, and technological benefits – also poses challenges that the acquisition workforce must intelligently address to achieve successful outcomes.

IA&E – a brief refresher

DoD’s IA&E concept* includes six interrelated functional areas that lead to successful international acquisition outcomes with our allies and friends:

  • IA&E Planning and Analysis
  • International Cooperative Programs (ICPs)
  • Sales and Transfers (including Foreign Military Sales (FMS), Direct Commercial Sales (DCS), and Building Partner Capacity (BPC))
  • Technology Security and Foreign Disclosure (TSFD)
  • Defense Exportability Integration
  • International Contracting

* For those of you who’d like to learn more about these areas, visit our DAU International Community of Practice (ICOP) website IA&E Overview.

IA&E Planning & Analysis efforts early in a new or modified program's acquisition life-cycle should focus on identifying potential future international acquisition activity -- ICP, FMS, DCS, and BPC -- in order to determine the breath and depth of defense exportability features needed.

IA&E and Lashley’s Laws – an analysis

Here’s a step-by-step analysis of the IA&E aspects of Lashley’s laws on a fictional program – traditional, rapid, or middle tier acquisition, the fundamentals are still the essentially the same – to see what happens (positive and negative) depending on the choices that our fictional acquisition professionals make.

Law #1 -- You can have anything you want

At Program X’s inception the DoD Component Program Manager (PM) and Integrated Product Team (IPT) performed an IA&E Assessment that indicated that System X would likely be widely sold or transferred to allied/friendly nations. This conclusion was reached based on the following factors:

  • U.S. Government/DoD strategic guidance and Security Cooperation policy favoring future exports.
  • DoD Combatant Commander (CoCOM) policy favoring exports to support future coalition burden sharing and interoperability as documented in the program’s Initial Capabilities Document (ICD) per JROC Memo 025-19 “Build Exportability.”
  • Historical analysis by the DoD Component International Program Organization (IPO) that indicated that over 90% of the systems like System X were exported by the USG/DoD at some point during their life-cycle.

As a result, at the initial acquisition decision point pretty much everyone agreed -- other than the PM and IPT, who were skeptical that multiple exportable version of System X could be affordably developed and produced – that Program X should include defense exportability as a key capability requirement for System X.

Law #2 -- You cannot have everything you want

Once System X development efforts moved forward, it became clear to everyone that significant system tradeoffs would probably need to be made to keep Program X on track vis-à-vis its projected performance, cost, and schedule objectives. This meant that some of the original System X requirements would probably not be met, but which ones?

Law #3 -- You decide what you want by what you are willing to give up to get it

Almost every development program reaches a crunch zone where trades have to be made to keep key DoD Component requirements and funding stakeholders onboard. In my experience, asking for more money in such cases could cause program cancellation. In these dire circumstances, one or more scope areas would have to be reduced or even eliminated. Typical choices included technical data, test articles and events, and logistics elements such as test equipment and spares. If the program survived and ended up being successfully produced and fielded, we usually had to “buy back” the lost scope through additional non-recurring investments and suboptimal procurement quantities, usually at 5-10 times the original cost. I saw this sequence of events repeated over and over. Unsurprisingly, when I moved from domestic to international acquisition, I also saw this same pattern occur in the IA&E aspects of many programs despite the potential adverse impacts on their program’s future ability to export the systems they were developing.

Returning to our Program X example, here are three choices the PM/IPT could make if they hit the development crunch zone.

  1. Jettison IA&E: Eliminate System X ICP and/or FMS planning and engagement efforts as well as any investment in defense exportability, including development of “one size fits all” domestic and export program protection measures in Cybersecurity, Anti-Tamper, and Trusted Systems and Networks that would allow for timely exports. “Kick the can” on all IA&E considerations until the initial U.S. version of System X is produced and fielded, then leave it up to their PMT/IPT successors to try redesign System X to be exportable in response to allied/friendly nation requests. If pressed, advised the USG/DoD leadership, CoCOMs, and the U.S. prime and subcontractors that future exports will just have to wait until later.
  2. Plan for/Develop an Initial Export Version: Retain a “bare bones” ICP or FMS planning cadre. Invest in “one size fits all” program protection measures for domestic and future export versions and use a Modular Open Systems Architecture (MOSA) design approach that is flexible enough to accommodate potential ICP or FMS “launch customer” investment that would provide the amount of funding needed to design and test System X’s initial set of defense exportability features. This approach provides the USG/DoD and U.S. prime and subcontractors with an alternative that would enable develop of an initial export version if one or more ICP partners or FMS launch customer(s) are identified.
  3. Develop Multiple Export Versions: Identify one or more potential partner nations and establish an ICP International Agreement as early as possible in development to provide funding for development of multiple export versions based on a “one size fits all” program protection and MOSA design approach. This would certainly provide the USG/DoD and U.S. industry with a menu of exportable system options, if the program survives …

Law #4 -- If you are unwilling to give up anything, what you will get is nothing that anyone would want.

In this oft-repeated scenario, the DoD Component and Program X PM/IPT are faced with a classic risk management decision.

  • Choose Option A: This choice effectively eliminates IA&E program risk since no exportability efforts will be pursued until after the U.S. version of System X has been produced and fielded. However, what’s really happened is that IA&E program risk has been transformed into a USG/DoD political/military risk (no System X to offer for export to allies/friends) and CoCOM operational risk (no coalition burden sharing or interoperability in the future).
  • Choose Option B: This is a classic “satisficing” choice where some IA&E program risk is assumed since some time, talent, and funding will still be devoted to System X exportability. However, both the DoD Component and PM/IPT would still be able to quickly respond to USG/DoD political/military and CoCOM operational requirements if senior leaders at these levels are able to help persuade ICP partners or FMS launch customers to join DoD in System X acquisition by providing funding. Often done. Recent examples include Three- Dimensional Expeditionary Long-Range Radar (3DELRR), P-8A Maritime Patrol Aircraft, MQ-4C Triton Unmanned Aerial System (UAS), and the Integrated Air and Missile Defense Battle Command System (IBCS).
  • Choose Option C: This is a “big win” approach that involves a substantial amount of IA&E program risk with a potentially large return in the USG/DoD political/military and CoCOM operational areas. Never done? Think again since examples include NATO Evolved SeaSparrow Missile (ESSM), NATO C-17 Strategic Airlift Capability, NATO Alliance Ground Surveillance, M982 Excalibur Projectile, M270 Guided Multiple Launch Rocket System (GMLRS), Rolling Airframe Missile (RAM), AV-8B Harrier II Plus, F-16 Multinational Fighter Program, and Joint Strike Fighter. This doesn’t mean that there isn’t any IA&E program risk, however. Many of these programs had “near death” experiences before eventually moving through the development crunch zone into production and deployment for the U.S. and its allies/friends.

What’s the “right” decision?

My belief is that there is no right answer – no “school solution,” if you will. That said, the oft-heard DAU answer “it depends” is not correct either. Rather, making an optimal IA&E decision is based on a relatively simple “if – then” set of IA&E risk management considerations.

  • IF USG/DoD political/military and CoCOM senior leaders decide against any future System X exports (e.g., F-22) THEN the right choice is Option A. However, caution is advisable. What might happen in the future? When Japan decided it needed a next generation fighter, it approached the USG/DoD about purchasing F-22. The USG/DoD responded “no, we cannot sell the F-22 but could sell the F-35.” Good thing the F-35 was developed based on the Option C exportability concept described above! As a result, the F-35 was already exportable and available for immediate sale so Japan decided to move ahead with F-35 acquisition instead. Japan recently advised the President that it intends to purchase 105 F-35s -- a win-win outcome for the U.S. and one of its closest allies.
  • IF USG/DoD senior leaders decide that at least one export configuration of System X will be needed in the future, THEN the PM/IPT should pursue Option B in order to achieve an acceptable level of System X exportability with only low-to-moderate IA&E program risk. If ICP partners or FMS launch customers are identified later in development or early in production, then Program X will be in a position to complete its exportability efforts on System X to meet evolving USG/DoD and allied/friendly nations’ requirements.
  • IF USG/DoD senior leaders decide that System X should be exportable to a broad range of allied/friendly nations, THEN the PM/IPT could pursue Option C despite the challenges. However, just like Option A, caution is advisable. What might happen in the future? The PM/IPT and prime contractor(s) could become so overburdened with attempting to achieve the desired range of exportable System X configurations that both the domestic and international acquisition aspects of Program X could founder.


Hopefully you’ve found this Lashley’s Laws-based assessment of IA&E risks and benefits at the program level useful. Not all programs and systems are the same, but there appear to be some universal aspects to IA&E risk management that all PMs/IPTs should consider.

While the “just say no” approach to exportability is often attractive to PMs/IPTs initially, it’s almost always a bad choice since DoD ends up with a system that few (if any) allied/friendly nations will be able to acquire. Major losses in political/military relationships, coalition interoperability, and future U.S. government and industry economic benefits usually occur. On the other hand, a “make the system exportable to everybody” approach could easily put PMs/IPTs in impossible position from an acquisition program risk management perspective. This could exacerbate a program’s performance, cost, and schedule problems or, even worse, contribute to the program’s demise.

Making the “right” tough choices at the right time a program’s life-cycle (Law #3) avoids epic fails (Law #4). History has shown that most DoD programs fall in the 80% zone of the IA&E bell curve from a risk versus benefits perspective. Accordingly, most PMs/IPTs should considering focusing on an Option B exportability approach as early as possible in the acquisition life-cycle to hit the risk management “sweet spot” in building defense exportability into their system.

Until next time, Prof K