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Research Questions

  1. What was the root cause of the Nunn-McCurdy unit cost breach in the Joint Precision Approach and Landing System (JPALS) Inc. 1A major defense acquisition program (MDAP)?
  2. How can policymakers describe and assess the status and performance of MDAPs over time?

The authors examine the cause of the Joint Precision Approach and Landing System (JPALS) major defense acquisition program Nunn-McCurdy unit cost breach and document a methodology that can assess and summarize the overall performance of an acquisition portfolio at a point in time and over several years. In January 2014, the Navy informed the USD (AT&L) that both the average procurement unit cost and the program acquisition unit cost for the JPALS Inc. 1A program exceeded critical thresholds against both the original baseline and the current baseline, triggering the Nunn-McCurdy process, which is statutorily required by the 2009 Weapon Systems Acquisition Reform Act legislation. The team used official primary source documentation, interviews, and trade literature to assess and document the reasons for the critical cost growth. The methodology developed to assess portfolio performance included identifying objectives, choosing a portfolio type, selecting data and metrics, addressing data anomalies, and calculating and visualizing metrics. The authors applied the methodology to two sample portfolios — helicopter and satellite — from 2002 to 2012. They considered cost and schedule performance over time, reasons for changes in the portfolios' composition and maturity, the drivers and implications of rates of program spending, the percentage of funds remaining, the potential for future cost growth, the effects of rebaselining, and trends in associated Nunn-McCurdy breaches.

Key Findings

Several Factors Contributed to the JPALS Critical Unit Cost Breach

  • The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) decided to continue using the Instrument Landing System (ILS) instead of phasing it out and phasing in Global Positioning System (GPS)–based precision approach and landing technology, which diverged from DoD's plan to move toward GPS-based technology.
  • As a result, the Army and the Air Force reassessed their precision approach and landing capability plans and eventually pulled out of the program.
  • The Navy then had to consider the consequences of the Air Force, Army, and FAA continuing to rely on ILS and concluded that a restructuring (and funding consolidation) was necessary based on a series of "fact-of-life" changes to the assumptions underpinning the original JPALS seven-increment plan.

How Can Policymakers Describe and Assess the Status and Performance of MDAPs over Time?

  • The authors have developed a methodology and set of metrics to characterize the status and risk of portfolios of MDAPs.
  • The methodology involves identifying objectives, choosing a portfolio type, selecting data and metrics, addressing data anomalies and challenges, and calculating and visualizing metrics.
  • Important metrics in the methodology include cost and schedule performance over time, changes in portfolio composition and maturity, rates of program spending, the percentage of funds remaining, the potential for future cost growth, and trends in associated Nunn-McCurdy breaches.
  • To validate the methodology, it was applied to two sample portfolios — the helicopter and satellite portfolios — from 2002 to 2012.

Table of Contents

  • Chapter One

    Introduction

  • Part One

    Joint Precision Approach and Landing System Increment 1A

    • Chapter Two

      Joint Precision Approach and Landing System Increment 1A

    • Chapter Three

      JPALS Increment 1A Program Overview

    • Chapter Four

      The Milestone B Program: JPALS Increment 1A

    • Chapter Five

      Root Cause Analysis

    • Chapter Six

      Conclusions

  • Part Two

    Assessing the Department of Defense Weapons System Acquisition Portfolio

    • Chapter Seven

      A Methodology for Assessing the Department of Defense Acquisition Portfolio

    • Chapter Eight

      Construction of a Portfolio Analysis: Objectives, Portfolios, Data, Metrics, and Visualization Selection

    • Chapter Nine

      Initial Examination of Defined Metrics: Helicopter and Satellite Portfolios

    • Chapter Ten

      Expanded Narrative of the Helicopter Portfolio

    • Chapter Eleven

      Summary and Way Ahead

  • Appendix A

    JPALS Program History

  • Appendix B

    Assessing the "Test Case" Portfolio

This research was sponsored by the Office of the Secretary of Defense (OSD) PARCA office and conducted within the Acquisition and Technology Policy Center of the RAND National Defense Research Institute, a federally funded research and development center sponsored by the Office of the Secretary of Defense, the Joint Staff, the Unified Combatant Commands, the Navy, the Marine Corps, the defense agencies, and the defense Intelligence Community.

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