Cover: Improving the Technical Requirements Development Process for Weapon Systems

Improving the Technical Requirements Development Process for Weapon Systems

A Systems-Based Approach for Managers

Published Nov 3, 2022

by Lauren A. Mayer, William Shelton, Christian Johnson, Daniel Adducchio, Raza Khan, Suzanne Genc, Danielle C. Tarraf, Nahom M. Beyene


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Research Questions

  1. How does the DAF currently develop technical requirements and why?
  2. Can STPA be used in technical requirements development?
  3. What are best practices for developing technical requirements?

The acquisition process for a new weapon system involves developing a set of technical requirements — a set of statements or models defining what a system should do and how well it should do it — for the system's design to ensure that the system provides the needed operational capability within budget and schedule constraints. However, oversights during this process can result in cost or schedule overruns, unsuitable operational performance, or outright cancellation.

The U.S. Department of the Air Force (DAF) asked RAND Project AIR FORCE to develop an approach to help improve DAF's technical requirements development process. To do so, the authors consulted policies and the literature, held discussions with DAF stakeholders and subject-matter experts, conducted two case studies, and assessed various tools that might assist development of technical requirements.

This report describes the resulting approach, which has been informed by systems-based methods and tools, and includes an exploration of the applicability and feasibility of one specific emerging hazard-analysis tool: system-theoretic process analysis (STPA).

Key Findings

  • Systems engineering activities in the DAF are constrained by the availability of expertise, manpower, training, and guidance. DAF policy and instructions further lack recommended roles and responsibilities for developing technical requirements. As a result, development of technical requirements tends to be ad hoc and rely on previous experience and similar programs, among other things.
  • STPA has the potential to support technical requirements development tasks, but there may not be enough evidence to determine its effectiveness. Other systems engineering tools have proven effectiveness and provide many of the same insights as STPA.
  • As with other systems engineering tools, effectively implementing STPA for technical requirements development across DAF programs would require training, further strain personnel time, and entail a nontrivial amount of stakeholder coordination.
  • While implementing the approach described in this report may increase early acquisition costs and schedule, the DAF will likely benefit from significant cost and schedule reductions in later phases of acquisition.


  • Use a structured, iterative, and tailorable approach, such as the one described in this report, for developing technical requirements, providing the approach to managers and updating policy to define formal roles for implementation.
  • Increase the DAF's organic systems engineering expertise by working with Defense Acquisition University and the Air Force Institute of Technology to develop and implement training and education.
  • Create a standalone systems engineering field and track personnel who have completed this training, possibly through a specific acquisition workforce series identifier.

Research conducted by

The research reported here was commissioned by the Director for Global Reach Programs, Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Air Force for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics, Brig Gen Mark R. August and conducted within the Resource Management Program of RAND Project AIR FORCE.

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