Cover: Managing Intellectual Property Relevant to Operating and Sustaining Major U.S. Air Force Weapon Systems

Managing Intellectual Property Relevant to Operating and Sustaining Major U.S. Air Force Weapon Systems

Published Sep 14, 2021

by Frank Camm, Phillip Carter, Sheng Tao Li, Melissa Shostak


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Research Questions

  1. How can the Air Force best acquire, use, and leverage IP for new and legacy systems, operating within current legal and contractual constraints?
  2. What organizational change should the Air Force consider to better acquire and use IP?

In this report, the authors examine opportunities to improve policy on technical data and data rights associated with operating and sustaining Air Force major weapon systems. Drawing on past RAND Corporation analysis, and the findings of the studies conducted under Sections 809, 813, and 875 of the Fiscal Year 2016 National Defense Authorization Act, the authors identify intellectual property (IP) issues most likely to interest the senior leadership of the Air Force and develop high-level recommendations to address those issues. Among the issues addressed are clarification of the definitions of key types of technical data, creation of an Air Force cadre of specialists on technical data and data rights, and creation of a new form of standard contract that would allow the Air Force and its contractors to negotiate the terms for buying technical data and data rights during a competitive source selection for engineering and manufacturing development (EMD) and then preserve the option to buy data and data rights under those terms over the lifetime of the resulting program.

Key Findings

Air Force expansion of its reliance on original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) to sustain its weapon systems in the 1980s and 1990s did not work as well as expected

  • Sustainment by OEMs has been more costly, less responsive, and of lower quality than the Air Force believes in-house or competitively provided sustainment would have been.

In-house and competitive sustainment of Air Force systems requires Air Force access to appropriate IP

  • Expanded reliance on OEMs led the Air Force to give less priority to acquiring appropriate IP.
  • This change reduced the skills within the Air Force to identify requirements for IP and to translate these requirements into effective delivery and management of technical data and data rights.

Air Force IP specialists understand these issues in some depth, but the Air Force currently has few of these specialists

  • Congress directed the establishment of an IP cadre at the Office of the Secretary of Defense or service level.
  • An IP cadre should have specialized knowledge, be centralized, have a focused mission, be funded by programs, and be supported by Air Force leadership.

Senior Air Force leaders must promote any new initiatives to acquire appropriate IP for new systems or to work around the general dearth of appropriate IP for legacy systems

  • They will need to sustain a multiyear effort to staff, resource, and coordinate new policies and practices across the Air Force legal, acquisition, and sustainment communities to assure more cost-effective support to the warfighter.


  • Structure qualitatively different approaches to IP policy and practice for legacy and new Air Force systems.
  • Understand the role of time when comparing the cost and benefits of investing in IP.
  • Clarify the scope of operations, maintenance, installation, and training and form-fit-function data in service and/or Department of Defense regulations and contract clauses.
  • Develop a cadre of IP specialists, and motivate its effective use throughout the Air Force.
  • Create a standard mechanism to preserve an option to acquire IP at a price negotiated as part of the EMD source selection.
  • Commit to pursuing IP over the long term in a coordinated manner in each phase of the acquisition of a program.
  • Motivate relevant Air Force personnel to commit the resources they control to more proactive pursuit of effective Air Force access to IP in major programs.
  • Use formal change management to coordinate the diverse activities necessary to improve IP policy.
  • Continue research and policy development relating to IP strategy, acquisition, use, and management by the Air Force.

Research conducted by

The research reported here was commissioned by the Office of the Air Force Deputy General Counsel for Acquisition and conducted by the Resource Management Program within RAND Project AIR FORCE.

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