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Research Questions

  1. What lessons can be learned from the process of developing SWP planning phase artifacts for the JCW program?
  2. How can these lessons learned inform future JCW program acquisition information requirements and educate other DoD Software Acquisition Pathway program planning efforts?

Because of the long timelines and significant cost traditionally associated with acquiring weapon systems for the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD), analyses are constantly being conducted to find ways to streamline acquisition and reduce cost. Considering findings from various analyses on acquisition along with direction from Congress, DoD created the Adaptive Acquisition Framework (AAF) to improve the timeliness and affordability of acquisition programs. Marine Corps leadership decided that the AAF's Software Acquisition Pathway (SWP) would provide the best path for the Joint Cyber Weapon (JCW) program as it progresses through its acquisition life cycle.

Marine Corps Systems Command requested that the RAND Corporation assist in documenting JCW program acquisition plans. Specifically, RAND researchers were asked to assist the JCW program office in refining key acquisition artifacts required for submission during the planning phase of the SWP. This satisfied a condition for the program to enter the execution phase of the SWP to provide rapid cyber operations capabilities to the warfighter. Drawing on their experience with assisting with the JCW artifacts, the authors discuss several lessons learned and recommend that programs can effectively navigate the SWP by prioritizing the acquisition artifact schedule, ensuring early and ongoing stakeholder communication, tailoring artifacts to meet program needs, and resourcing the program effectively to accomplish these tasks.

This research builds on prior RAND research from fiscal year 2021 that brought together data on operational capability, scheduling, and uncertainty to develop a life-cycle cost-estimating framework for the Marine Corps' JCW program.

Key Findings

  • Prioritizing the acquisition artifact development schedule is necessary to meet planning phase timelines because some artifacts depend on content required in others.
  • The preplanning phase did not provide much useful information that is needed to scope the SWP artifacts.
  • Early and ongoing coordination between stakeholders is beneficial for the program.
  • Tailoring is a key element in drafting relevant artifacts in the SWP.
  • Leveraging the user agreement is a useful way to define stakeholder roles and relationships in a software development process that aligns with agile principles and stakeholder's approval needs.
  • Current SWP policy and strategy templates are not designed with offensive cyber software in mind.
  • The JCW's artifact sign-off approach was expeditious; stakeholders typically signed off within a few months. This could indicate that SWP provides useful flexibility to programs.

Recommendations

  • Programs can take several actions to prioritize planning task schedules, such as dedicating staff (including contract support) to concentrating on planning phase documentation, prebriefing signatories prior to document delivery, and early development of classification guidance.
  • Programs should establish coordination mechanisms before and during the planning phase in order to work seamlessly between stakeholders during the planning phase. This coordination will help mitigate potential risks to the schedule and minimize the impact of the risks that do emerge.
  • Programs should tailor SWP documentation to their needs. However, effective tailoring should be a conscious upfront decision and require leadership support and critical thinking on what is applicable to the program.
  • Programs should establish an adaptive and continuous requirements management process within the user agreement for the management and translation of high-level capability needs into functional requirements, software development goals, and testing targets.
  • The Office of the Secretary of Defense should consider developing modified guidance and reporting metrics for cyberweapon SWP programs because they are significantly different forms of software compared with typical continuously operated systems.

This research was sponsored by MARCORSYSCOM and conducted within the Navy and Marine Forces Program of the RAND National Security Research Division.

This report is part of the RAND research report series. RAND reports present research findings and objective analysis that address the challenges facing the public and private sectors. All RAND reports undergo rigorous peer review to ensure high standards for research quality and objectivity.

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