Cover: Improving Intelligence Support to the Future Warfighter

Improving Intelligence Support to the Future Warfighter

Acquisition for the Contested Environment

Published Nov 4, 2021

by Cynthia R. Cook, David Luckey, Bradley M. Knopp, Yuliya Shokh, Karen M. Sudkamp, Don Casler, Yousuf Abdelfatah, Hilary Reininger


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Research Questions

  1. What are the current challenges faced by the U.S. Air Force acquisition enterprise?
  2. How can intelligence help meet these challenges and better support acquisition programs and strategies?

Asked by the Air Force Materiel Command to determine whether the efficacy of existing and future acquisition programs and strategies could be improved, RAND's Project AIR FORCE engaged a team of experts to analyze U.S. Air Force intelligence support to the acquisition community. The main challenge they found is in ensuring the ability of the acquisition community to deliver capabilities that meet a threat as it exists when capabilities are delivered, not as it was when requirements were set. Doing so requires understanding the distinct cultures, resource constraints and incentives, and goals of the acquisition and intelligence enterprises themselves, all of which have been shaped during decades when the U.S. military dominated and its weaponry had no peer.

Thus, the authors provide an overview of the acquisition enterprise ecosystem, which includes the Department of Defense and the Intelligence Community, as well as Congress and other stakeholders. Focusing on interactions between acquisition and intelligence processes and personnel, including current disincentives to interacting, and taking into account resource constraints, they point to ways to enhance information sharing and workforce development in order to ensure that U.S. Air Force acquisition is adequately informed by intelligence in an environment of increasingly sophisticated threats from peer and near-peer adversaries.

Key Findings

  • Acquisition intelligence has not traditionally been considered an independent or unique field of intelligence support, and neither policy and guidance, nor senior leader messaging, consistently reinforce the importance of intelligence in the acquisition enterprise.
  • There is no single, overarching demand signal for intelligence to support acquisition.
  • Emphasis on cost, schedule, and performance in acquisition can be a disincentive to seeking ongoing threat-informed intelligence.
  • Communication, collaboration, and coordination between acquisition and intelligence occurs through formal and informal channels, but the informal channel appears to be the most frequently used and currently the most effective means of information sharing.
  • Intelligence and acquisition personnel often lack the proper clearances to facilitate information sharing and appropriate facilities in which to review and use classified material.
  • A relatively small number of U.S. Air Force officers have the background in intelligence activities, engineering concepts, and acquisition processes coveted by the acquisition intelligence community; an even smaller number of these are assigned to acquisition intelligence organizations.
  • The importance of science and technology expertise is highlighted by the growing number of, and need for, civilian scientists and engineers in the acquisition enterprise.


  • Leadership should stress the importance of incorporating threat information into acquisition efforts and make resources available for doing so.
  • The requirements and budgetary communities should be partners with acquisition in seeking and digesting intelligence and continually trading resources to address the greatest evolving threats.
  • Leadership should arrange for additional intelligence support to formal methods of communicating threats and ensuring that programs are threat-informed.
  • Leadership should focus on acquisition strategies that allow programmatic flexibility in the form of open-system architectures and better mechanisms to seek additional investments in order to bring incentives into alignment with the goal of threat-informed acquisition.
  • Leadership should look at improving access to classified information, including by seeking ways to extract less classified insight from higher-classification documents for wider dissemination and investing in improving appropriate clearances.
  • The U.S. Air Force should continue efforts to improve hiring, training, and retention practices of intelligence personnel and include "Acquisition Intelligence" as an assignment type.

Research conducted by

The research reported here was commissioned by the Air Force Material Command (AFMC)/Intelligence Directorate (A2) and conducted by the Resource Management Program within RAND Project AIR FORCE.

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