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Portfolio-Focused Acquisition for the 21st Century Battlespace


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Portfolio-Focused Acquisition for the  21st Century Battlespace

by David Tremper, Director, Acquisition Integration and Interoperability Office

In today’s battlespace, the rapid interplay of time and information is the critical determinant of defense posture. The DoD’s adversaries are acquiring and deploying modern technologies at a pace never seen before—and often in nontraditional and highly effective ways—while digitalization is forcing operational planners to throw “the way we have always done things” out the window.

These same forces drive DoD acquisition. No longer can we afford to look through a siloed and program-specific lens. Today’s geopolitical and technological landscape requires a more holistic, portfolio-centric approach to acquisition integration that aligns decision making with operational needs to increase efficiency.

As Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin has said, “Integrated deterrence means all of us giving our all. It means that working together is an imperative and not an option. It means that capabilities must be shared across lines as a matter of course, and not as an exception to the rule. And it means that coordination across commands and Services needs to be a reflex and not an afterthought.”

Mission Engineering for Acquisition Effectiveness and Warfighter Resilience

No DoD mission relies on merely a single system. If we look at an individual program, gaps can easily be missed. Developing capabilities should be guided by a mission application comprising a combination of required systems. Integrating and aligning mission requirements with individual system specifications and cross-system interoperability to inform otherwise disconnected investment decisions will lead to capabilities that best support the Joint Warfighter.

Therefore, the acquisition community must be inherently collaborative, holistically focused on the entire kill chain, and always considering joint operational gaps to deliver integrated, system-of-systems (SoS) capabilities. Analysis and action must be guided by the following questions:

  • What are the key mission performance measures?
  • What are the capability gaps with respect to specific missions, and how will new capabilities change the way we fight?
  • How do new capabilities best integrate with or replace current systems?
  • And how can we optimize that balance in an integrated and affordable way?

Over the last several years, the DoD made significant progress in adopting a system- and portfolio-based framework to align strategic, data-driven decision making for capabilities to the mission areas. For instance, while the DoD may have historically focused on the general performance of a specific munition and its ability to meet those general performance requirements, it now looks at the significance of the munition within a broader, integrated air and missile defense capability portfolio—directly aligning and continually monitoring systems’ development with operational relevance.

The DoD is integrating policies and processes at the micro level, while aligning other key aspects of defense acquisition at the macro level. Only when requirements, resourcing, and acquisition management are integrated, are we able to effectively transition, at scale, emerging technology across the proverbial Valley of Death. To facilitate this fundamental transformation, the DoD has stood up three key enablers: Competitive Advantage Pathfinders (CAPs), Integrated Acquisition Portfolio Reviews (IAPRs), and the Acquisition Integration and Interoperability (AI2) Office.

CAPs Demonstrate Common Challenges and Solutions to Barriers in Capability Fielding

The Deputy Secretary of Defense and the DoD’s Acquisition Team established CAPs to demonstrate challenges and solutions to barriers in capability fielding by illuminating disconnects among the three legs of delivering Warfighter advantage. Those legs are Requirements (Joint Capabilities Integration and Development System), Resourcing (planning, programming, budgeting, and execution), and acquisition program management. CAPs aim to:

  • Streamline capability delivery to the Warfighter by identifying process bottlenecks and proposing innovative approaches to break them down.
  • Efficiently transition new technology by better aligning science and technology (S&T) endpoints with acquisition starting points.
  • Create efficiency in capability by enabling seamless delivery of capabilities between the Services as threats migrate across domains.

In 2022, the first sprint of six pathfinders was undertaken in the areas of long-range fires; counter-command, control, communications, computers, cyber, intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance, and targeting; as well as in Joint All Domain Command and Control. Each of these efforts is delivering significant benefits, including:

  • Demonstrating rapid capability transfer between the Services
  • Rapidly reprogramming or moving funds to support reprioritized acquisition strategies that meet evolving Warfighter needs.
  • Applying Government Reference Architectures across the Services to facilitate new capability delivery and sharing of hardware and software modules.

A Working CAP

An example of a successful Competitive Advantage Pathfinder (CAP) is that of the Long-Range Anti-Ship Missile (LRASM) program. This effort faced rigid funding and an inability to reprioritize acquisition strategies that prevented the Navy from taking advantage of new technology. Through a CAP, the U.S. Navy is leveraging an improved Above Threshold Reprogramming process and agile acquisition to accelerate technology development and performance of the LRASM by two years.

IAPRs and Cross-Departmental Forums

Applying capability portfolio management of joint mission health through mission engineering helps decision makers better understand the operational relevance of individual system investment and the significance of potential cost, schedule, and performance issues. Established in 2021, IAPRs bring together senior leaders from across the department to collectively review the programmatic health of related systems within a portfolio through the lens of critical joint missions. The review enables the DoD to address critical capability gaps and programmatic issues in a collective and proactive manner, facilitating synchronized warfighting concepts, requirements, technologies, and program execution.

IAPRs are intended to deliver real-world and value-added acquisition governance to the Warfighter. Framed within a joint operational context, the IAPR is aligned to the pacing threat and the priorities of the Combatant Commanders and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs. This perspective enhances the visibility of enterprise risks, dependencies, and opportunities to rapidly inform enterprise decisions, address shortfalls, and bring emerging capabilities to the fielded force.

The IAPR process is managed by the newly formed Acquisition Integration and Interoperability (AI2) Office under the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Acquisition. The execution of a successful IAPR includes the following:

Inputs. To frame the operational context, the IAPR collects information on Joint Mission Threads (a full description of a joint mission’s activities and systems), threat kill chains, pacing threats, and Warfighter needs identified through Capability Portfolio Management Reviews, Joint Requirements Oversight Council Memos, Combatant Command, Joint Urgent/Emergent Operational Needs, and other sources.

Analysis. Activity is led by Portfolio Managers from within Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition and Sustainment in collaboration with relevant stakeholders (Combatant Commanders, Joint Staff, Office of the Director for Cost Assessment and Program Evaluation, the Services, and others). The analysis examines the following:

  • Existing programs and emerging technologies that support the joint mission.
  • Programmatic health in terms of cost, schedule, and performance.
  • Technology transition alignment and timelines.
  • Cyber, sustainment, energy, and supply chain risks associated with underlying systems.

This analysis identifies critical gaps, interdependencies, and opportunities for improvement within the portfolio.

Outcomes. Based on the findings, the portfolio managers offer recommendations to improve portfolio health, which may include increased or reduced investment, collaboration between the Services in specific capability areas, interoperability between systems, policy reforms, or many other proactive, department-wide actions.

“IAPRs are invaluable within the mission thread and kill chain,” said Tanya Skeen, Performing the Duties of Assistant Secretary of Defense for Acquisition. “We are closing the mission thread and bringing portfolios together—all in the context of an advancing threat. This greater visibility enables us to see and act on changes in acquisition and capability fielding that will better serve the department.”

To date, 11 IAPRs are completed in the following portfolios: space, nuclear, sustainment, chemical and biological defense, cyberspace, and electronic warfare. The IAPR outcomes are influencing budget decisions, new S&T investments, and cross-Service collaboration.

AI2 Office Partners to Deliver Joint Capabilities and Influence Resourcing Recommendations

Joint Force SoS are emerging as the highest priority DoD capability needs. Spanning strategic to tactical operations, many current and future systems support a wide variety of missions within the Services. Joint acquisition is a coalition of the willing, with no streamlined mechanisms for connecting programs or capabilities in support of a joint mission, leaving a gap in joint acquisition management.

In response, the AI2 Office was established in January 2023 to build an enduring infrastructure to seamlessly deliver joint SoS capabilities. Leveraging lessons learned from CAPs and IAPRs while partnering with the Office of the Secretary of Defense, Joint Staff, and Military Departments and Services, this office will drive cross-Service strategies, provide joint mission management through dedicated analysis, and influence coordinated resourcing recommendations across the Services. AI2 will establish innovative strategies to enable the delivery of joint missions composed of inherently integrated and interoperable systems strategically aligned during acquisition, rather than inefficiently “strapped” together after fielding.

There is a large opportunity space for innovation in the acquisition of joint missions. This can be done when we identify the seams between programs that challenge jointness and close them by bringing the joint mission to the forefront of acquisition, identify those systems and underlying technical requirements needed to support the joint mission and promote them. We have historically been challenged in our ability to connect Service-specific system development in support of the joint mission because we lacked a dedicated approach to identifying, enabling, and monitoring joint readiness through technical requirements early in acquisition.

AI2 is charting the course to solve multi-Service acquisition program challenges and will act as the coordinator for institutionalizing data-driven and portfolio-based acquisition that not only identifies but closes joint mission gaps by doing the following:

  • Conducting system-of-systems mission analysis to determine impacts of innovative joint acquisition strategies.
  • Analyzing joint technical requirements and resourcing processes to support delivery of joint operational capabilities.
  • Identifying process and policy improvements that can facilitate joint capability acceleration.
Figure 1. Flow Chart for Integrating Portfolio Reviews in Joint Programs
Figure 1. Flow Chart for Integrating Portfolio Reviews in Joint Programs

Key: CAPE = Office of Cost Assessment and Program Evaluation; CIO = chief information officer; CPMRs = Capability Portfolio Management Reviews; DEPSECDEF = Deputy Secretary of Defense; DMAG = Deputy Secretary’s Management Action Group; DoDD = Department of Defense Directive; DoDI = Department of Defense Instruction; DOT&E = Director, Operational Test and Evaluation; IAPRs = Integrated Acquisition Portfolio Reviews; IT = Information Technology; JCA = Joint Capability Area; JROC = Joint Requirements Oversight Council; PEOs = Program Executive Offices; PfM = Portfolio Management; SAEs = Service Acquisition Executives; SPRs = Strategic Portfolio Reviews; USD(A&S) = Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition and Sustainment; USD(R&E) = Under Secretary of Defense for Research and Engineering.

Source: Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Acquisition

A Call to Action

This mission-focused approach to acquisition requires that the acquisition enterprise look at the entire kill chain and identify critical dependencies within and across portfolios. To do this, each acquisition professional must have a comprehensive understanding of the capabilities required for specific missions. This knowledge can be gained only through strong working relationships with program managers, acquisition peers, and the S&T community. A deep understanding of industry players and capabilities will prove invaluable in view of the rapid increases in the interplay of time, information, technological advancement, and operational needs. These relationships can help to shrink decision timelines that are critical to success in the 21st century battlespace.

Transformation is not easy. However, quickly delivering and fielding capabilities at scale to our joint War-fighters, civilians, allies, and partners has never been more important. By leveraging portfolio management enablers such as CAPs, IAPRs, and the AI2 Office, combined with a strategic look at the entire kill chain, we will continue to deliver pre-eminent capabilities and be the finest stewards of the American tax dollar.

TREMPER, Executive Director for AI2, is responsible for driving cross-Service strategies for acquisition and fielding of Joint Force System of Systems capabilities supporting COCOMs’ operational needs. He was awarded Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency’s Meritorious Public Service Medal, the Department of the Navy’s Meritorious and Superior Civilian Service Awards, Office of Naval Research’s Future Naval Capability Program Manager of the Year Award, and NATO’s Scientific Achievement Award. He holds a B.S. and M.S. in electrical engineering from Catholic University of America and Clarkson University, respectively. 

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