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Research Questions

  1. How can the Weapon System Support Program be used to allow the Defense Logistics Agency to improve support for service-prioritized weapon systems?
  2. Based on existing Air Force and Army evidence, how could all branches of the armed services develop effective prioritization inputs to the WSSP, and what should a common approach across the services look like?
  3. How much could support for readiness drivers be increased, and what would be the consequences for the remaining non-readiness driver population in a fixed-cost environment?

Providing for the readiness and sustainability of the armed services' weapon systems is one of the key responsibilities of the Department of Defense's supply chain, and a critical component of that is the vast array of consumable repair parts needed for weapon system maintenance at the field and depot levels. The Defense Logistics Agency (DLA) has responsibility for managing those consumable repair parts, and in 1981 the Weapon System Support Program (WSSP) was established to help DLA and its customers prioritize the various items. Its intent was to increase collaboration between customers and their major suppliers by which the services would identify items of greatest priority to them, and DLA would focus its management attention and limited resources on prioritizing the availability of those items. However, WSSP performance has fallen short of its goals, and this shortfall has persisted over decades. A primary reason for the shortfall is the failure to use tools and methodologies for accurately determining true critical weapon system readiness drivers (RDs) and differentiating these items from others. Through research, data analysis, and interviews with subject matter experts, the authors analyzed the problems limiting WSSP effectiveness. The report offers an alternative method for targeting RDs for enhanced support and gives recommendations for improving the WSSP's ability to provide weapon system readiness support.

Key Findings

Current issues in the Weapon System Support Program

  • The number of WSSP National Item Identification Numbers (NIINs) is large, approaching 2.5 million. Almost one-third of this number are at the highest level of priority, and one-half are in the top five tiers of priority (out of 15 tiers).
  • The highest-priority NIINs account for 60 percent of all Defense Logistics Agency issues. Moreover, those demands are disproportionate across the services, with the Navy high-priority NIINs alone accounting for almost 40 percent of total value of all materiel DLA issues.
  • Partly due to this, the system is not able to deliver materiel availability any higher for high-priority NIINs than for the general population.
  • The WSSP has not achieved its goal of prioritizing support for high-priority weapon systems. The primary reason is the lack of the services' ability either to identify or communicate to DLA the relatively small portion of the repair part population that dominates readiness problems for their equipment. These issues pose challenges for directing investment in the WSSP and contribute to the shortfalls in meeting the program's goals of producing higher availability for the most critical items.


  • The Office of the Secretary of Defense (OSD) should develop and promulgate policy justifying and providing for a new approach to the Weapon System Support Program.
  • The armed services should revise their approaches for determining critical readiness drivers (RDs) and present justifications for those approaches and the resulting lists.
  • The services should seek to make minimal changes in their assignment of system-level priority (as defined by the weapon system group code [WSGC]) to their candidate systems, and should review and revise their critical RD National Item Identification Number lists according to a regular schedule.
  • The Defense Logistics Agency should strive to achieve higher materiel availability (MA) for critical RD safety stock by pursuing policies and procedures that prioritize Obligation Authority (OA) investments in those items even if this results in lower overall MA.
  • DLA should report MA results disaggregated into readiness driver and non-readiness driver populations, as well as overall MA.

This research was sponsored by the Office of the Undersecretary of Defense for Logistics and Materiel Readiness (Supply Chain Integration) 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 (OSD), the Joint Staff, the Unified Combatant Commands, the U.S. Navy, the U.S. Marine Corps, the defense agencies, and the defense intelligence community.

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