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Research Questions

  1. What technical data rights and deliverables should the Air Force buy for major weapon systems and subsystems?
  2. When should the Air Force buy these data rights and deliverables?
  3. In the case of existing programs, what are the potential alternatives to paying high premiums for technical data proposed by OEMs?

The small fleets of specialized aircraft operated by Air Force Special Operations Command (AFSOC) need to be modified quickly to address new threats as they arise. To do this, AFSOC depends heavily on the original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) of its core military aircraft assets and their subsystems for life-cycle support. But AFSOC has grown dissatisfied with the support it is getting from the OEMs in terms of technical data. AFSOC believes that better access to technical data could improve competition for sustainment services or enable the U.S. Air Force to establish organic maintenance capabilities.

To make use of a contractor's technical data, the U.S. government must satisfy two conditions. First, the government must have the appropriate license rights. Standardized data rights are based on the source of funding used to create the data. Second, the government must actually possess the data it seeks to use. Securing the data themselves is as important—if not more so—as having the appropriate data rights.

In the programs the authors examined, they found limited understanding of the role of data rights and deliverables. In some cases, government personnel inappropriately acceded to contractor claims about what rights the government could acquire. In others, personnel acquired the appropriate data rights but failed to list technical data as deliverables or failed to take delivery of technical data before relevant contract authority expired. Still in other cases there were disputes between the government and contractors over rights. Lack of access to relevant technical data complicated these programs' abilities to sustain their weapon systems.

Key Findings

Data rights and data deliverables are distinct

  • Confusion about data rights versus deliverables has kept many Air Force programs from taking full advantage of their rights and pursuing actions that ensure that they will have the technical data they expect to need.
  • A license defines a data right to use data that the OEM created and continues to own. The Air Force must have a license to use any technical data it wants to use in its sustainment program for a system.
  • The Air Force has the best leverage to buy data packages in a competitive source selection for Engineering and Manufacturing Development (EMD). If the Air Force fails to take delivery of such a package during the EMD program, it can lose its access to the data in the package, even if it has rights to the data and funding to pay for them.

Nontraditional approaches could help with contracting for technical data

  • As it examines the price that the OEM offers, the Air Force can use a simple formula to ask itself whether it would be worthwhile to get the technical data in question.
  • Other Transaction Authority simplifies efforts to tailor the terms for acquiring technical data to reflect Air Force needs as closely as possible.
  • When the Air Force must negotiate new arrangements with a sole-source OEM, incentive-based contracting can clarify the contractor behavior that the Air Force wants to induce and motivate the OEM to generate benefits that it can then share with the Air Force.

Training on data rights and deliverables and access to such training should be expanded

  • In the day-to-day activity so important to the execution of data-related tasks in a program, Air Force program personnel can find themselves overmatched by contractor teams with legal expertise.
  • The Air Force would benefit from additional expertise on data rights and deliverables.
  • If the Air Force will continue to rely on its acquisition staff to manage day-to-day technical data issues, these staff members will need more training.


  • During the requirements process, clarify the role of technical data in the expected life-cycle management of a system.
  • Maintain regular order to ensure that program office tasks relevant to data rights and deliverables are executed properly.
  • Use a formal work breakdown structure to manage a systematic review of technical data requirements and the execution of a plan to meet those requirements.
  • Organize and review relevant historical documents to determine what legal basis the Air Force might have for a change.
  • Assess the benefits and costs associated with alternative approaches.

Research conducted by

This research was commissioned by the AFSOC Directorate of Strategic Plans, Programs and Requirements (A5/8), and conducted within the Resource Management Program of RAND Project AIR FORCE.

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