The Development of the Advanced Medium Range Air-to-Air Missile

A Case Study of Risk and Reward in Weapon System Acquisition

by Kenneth R. Mayer


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In this case study of the AMRAAM program, Mayer examines weapons acquisition as a "political" process involving the perceptions and goals of many organizations. Technologically, the missile is a success, despite a development program that involved major schedule slips, substantial cost growth, and several major redesign efforts. Mayer concludes that external oversight can be counterproductive as it raises the likelihood that the system must respond to forces having little to do with performance or management. For example, overselling the program at the beginning can lead to serious difficulties when the inevitable technical problems make system performance and management look poor in relation to the original promises. In addition, formal structures and procedures designed to reduce uncertainty cannot be relied on to counter optimistic estimates of performance, schedule, or cost. Finally, he concludes that concurrent development programs and fixed price contracts are inappropriate for technically risky programs.

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