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Defense Acquisition Research Journal
Guest Editor Introduction - Issue 86
Written by: Lt Col John M. Colombi, USAF (Ret.)
September 19, 2018
I thank Dr. Larrie Ferreiro for allowing me to introduce this themed edition of the Defense Acquisition Research Journal (ARJ). The three cost analysis articles in this edition reflect a small sampling of the diverse set of defense-focused acquisition research conducted at the Air Force Institute of Technology (AFIT)’s Graduate School of Engineering and Management. Unlike many civilian graduate schools, all AFIT resident students complete a 12-plus-quarter-hour thesis as a requirement for completion of a master’s degree. This intense, long-term, experiential component of a science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) graduate program is invaluable for developing critical thinking skills. Military and civilian graduate students and their faculty strive to find relevant research topics, with nearly 100% of student theses and dissertations sponsored by Air Force or other defense-related organizations. While the majority of AFIT graduate programs are in traditional engineering and science disciplines, other programs of study include systems engineering, operations research, logistics science, engineering management, and cost analysis. Many of the hundreds of thesis and dissertation topics each year directly address acquisition-related concerns.
The first two articles address descriptive statistics for improved operating and support (O&S) cost estimation. Historically, O&S is DoD’s largest category of appropriations and often accounts for 42% to 73% of total life-cycle costs. For fixed wing aircraft, this article shows percentages of 53% to 65%. The Weapon Systems Acquisition Reform Act (WSARA) of 2009, followed by recent National Defense Authorization Act and Better Buying Power policy, emphasize the need for improved life-cycle cost estimates, with support provided from better visibility and management of actual O&S cost data. Historically, focus within DoD has been on acquisition development and production costs. Bunecke, White, Ritschel, and Bush’s article addresses this historic gap by looking beyond maintenance growth due to inflation. While, in practice, a 2% year-to-year escalation factor is used for Maintenance cost estimates, their analysis suggests 1.8% per year should be used; this becomes significant over a system’s life cycle.
In the second article, O’Hanlon, Ritschel, White, and Brown seek out and identify the statistically significant differences across the cost element structure used in O&S estimation. Determining reliable future O&S costs early in a program allows important affordability considerations. They focus their analysis on the largest percentage of aircraft costs over the last 20 years (1996–2016), which fall into the categories of Manpower, Unit Operations, and Maintenance. In addition to determining statistics for different fixed wing aircraft types (bombers, fighters, unmanned aerial vehicles [UAV], etc.), they identify significant differences across those cost elements. Results allow portfolio managers to highlight program cost element outliers. Both these studies are relevant in the current environment of improved affordability considerations; acquisition research provides the knowledge, insights, and tools to provide needed improvements.
The third article embraces “big data” analytical methods, specifically text mining using word relationship analysis, sentiment analysis, and clustering. This research, by McGowin, Ritschel, Fass, and Boehmke, is a unique approach to find insights from acquisition reform data. This small study is groundbreaking for acquisition research—a new approach to identify qualitative categories, relationships, and trends on legislation directed at five major acquisition reforms. Since many of the quantitative metrics (such as average program cost growth) have remained unchanged over the last 50 years, data mining could provide new qualitative insights. After demonstrating reliability of the technique using an alternate method (Grounded Theory), the results indicate that past reforms may not fully align with the issues identified by the experts.
DoD’s current environment provides a great opportunity to influence acquisition policy and practice through high-quality acquisition research. In addition to cost analysis (exemplified in these three articles), policy makers, program executive officers (PEOs), program managers (PMs), and their staffs need new insights into a variety of defense-related system challenges. After all, defense acquisition is a complex, adaptive, socio-politico-technical system. The weapon systems and support systems acquired are more complex, more internetworked, and have greater opportunities for disruptive technology. Some trends that will continue to challenge our acquisition programs will include agile development strategies, complex adaptive systems, system of systems, autonomous and self-learning systems, human-systems integration and human agent teaming, technology innovation, and cyber physical system security considerations. Within the systems engineering community, two strategic areas are generating great promise to address these trends. The first area is the evolution and maturation of Model-based Systems Engineering (MBSE). This approach of describing and analyzing larger and more complex systems, in both form and function, using System Modeling Language (SysML) has achieved widespread adoption commercially. The defense industry must now embrace it organically with appropriate education, training, and tools to communicate effectively with our industry partners. The second area is complementary to MBSE; it is the design and implementation of a digital engineering environment. Effectively, this enterprise information technology solution could streamline the end-to-end life cycle of programs by digitizing the acquisition process from concept through engineering design and manufacturing, production, test, and through to operational service. Imagine the future defense acquisition system that effectively and efficiently digitizes, stores, accesses, moves, manages, and manipulates the vast data related to a weapon system across the myriad of organizations, and across the life cycle from cradle to grave.
… I cannot wait to read about these advancements in this journal.
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