Cover: Enhancing Management of the Joint Future Vertical Lift Initiative

Enhancing Management of the Joint Future Vertical Lift Initiative

Published Aug 14, 2017

by Jeffrey A. Drezner, Parisa Roshan, Thomas C. Whitmore


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Research Questions

  1. What is the intended purpose or goal of FVL?
  2. Who are the stakeholders, and what is their rationale for participating in FVL?
  3. How do the stakeholders define key concepts, such as joint, common, and success?
  4. What are the anticipated benefits of a joint approach to FVL?
  5. Are there alternative approaches that would yield the same benefits?

The history of joint acquisition programs in the U.S. Department of Defense reveals varied outcomes — some positive, some negative. Joint program management is intended to reduce management costs and spread risks across participating services. Increased commonality theoretically yields economies of scale and savings that can be realized during the development, production, and support phases. However, joint management introduces significant complexity, while commonality also introduces significant technical challenges. Some joint programs have proved to be successful (e.g., the Joint Direct Attack Munition), while the complexity of joint requirements might have contributed to cost growth and schedule delays in other programs (e.g., F-35 Joint Strike Fighter), detracting from the benefits expected from commonality. The joint Future Vertical Lift (FVL) initiative asked RAND to examine joint management constructs and recommend strategies for improving both its internal organizational structure and its alignment with key external bodies. The authors draw a distinction between joint program management and commonality and argue that it is possible to achieve some degree of commonality without joint program management. Based on a review of historical joint initiatives, as well as a review of relevant business management literature, the authors identify some of the factors affecting joint program success and recommend ways to apply those lessons to the management of FVL.

Key Findings

  • Joint management and commonality are not the same. Joint management is an organizational construct established to jointly manage a program with multiple participants. In contrast, commonality is a technical design concept in which different systems use the same components or subsystems. In general, it is commonality (in some form) that is responsible for cost savings or other benefits that are attributed to joint management. Commonality may emerge organically (bottom-up) and be managed successfully without a formal joint management construct.
  • Voluntary participation is a key enabler of successful joint initiatives. This ensures that participants are self-motivated and self-organizing.
  • Requirements must be substantially the same across all stakeholders. This means that the basic technical characteristics of the system (or subsystems and components) must be similar enough that compromises to accommodate diverse requirements do not impose additional costs (in dollars, risk, or performance) on the system. This is extremely challenging for a complex multiservice weapon system program, but it may be somewhat more manageable at the subsystem or component level.
  • Any formal joint or multiservice management construct should be founded on comprehensive planning, which includes delineating the roles, responsibilities, and authorities or participants; decision and oversight processes; and other rules of engagement. These should be codified in a memorandum of agreement.
  • The specific advantages and disadvantages — benefits and costs — of each management construct are contingent on a clear definition of exactly what is being acquired and by whom, as well as the business, organizational, and budgetary environment in which they are operating in.


  • The FVL should not implement a purely joint construct at this time. There is no evidence that joint management produces net benefits for a complex program, let alone a series of complex programs, as envisioned in the FVL family of systems (FoS).
  • The FVL should take advantage of the opportunity to more fully explore management constructs for commonality, analyze the key actions or decisions that generate commonality, and better understand the costs and benefits of commonality by including such an analysis as part of the upcoming analysis of alternatives.
  • Any future FVL management construct should use existing organizations, authorities, and processes to the maximum extent possible.
  • The attributes and enablers of successful joint management discussed in this report should also be followed as much as possible, meaning designed into the planning and implementation of the management construct.
  • A parallel development approach to common systems should be considered — the intentional separation of both technology development and management of major subsystems or components — given the complexity of the FVL FoS and the long period over which its programs will be active and operational.
  • The decades-long time frame of the FVL FoS also suggests that any management constructs should incorporate the attributes of learning organizations, which are open systems that adapt and thrive in changing environments.
  • The FVL community should identify the key framing assumptions that underlie the FVL FoS concept. Framing assumptions can have a significant adverse effect on program cost, schedule, and performance outcomes.

This study was jointly funded by FVL stakeholders and sponsored by the Deputy Director, J-8, Office of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the FVL initiative 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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