An Analysis of Weapon System Acquisition Intervals, Past and Present

by Giles K. Smith, E. T. Friedmann


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Critics of weapon system acquisition frequently claim that management process changes during the 1960s and 1970s caused the acquisition cycle to lengthen. A review of three classes of aerospace systems — aircraft, missiles, and helicopters — shows that over the past 30 years the time from the beginning of full scale development to delivery of the first operational item has changed only slightly, but average production rates have fallen by half. The planning phase corresponding to today's Phase I (from Milestone I to Milestone II) has nearly doubled, and the introduction of Phase Zero may have added still more time, but evidence on Phase Zero effects is still tenuous. Opportunities for shortening the acquisition cycle time appear to lie mainly in flexible application of the regulations governing approval of the Mission Element Need Statement (MENS), and in some cases the Services should be allowed to proceed simultaneously with Phase Zero, and even Phase I, studies while the MENS is being reviewed.

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