We in the Air Force have adopted an approach that suboptimizes our Big "A" acquisition triad of requirements, budget, and acquisition processes and that lacks a sufficient "trade space" analysis to maximize the benefit of our dollars. Trade space, which combines the terms trade-off and play space, refers to the leader's options and the consideration of the advantages and disadvantages of those choices. The objective of considering the trade space is to expand the envelope of potential options to identify the best alternative. Failures to develop our trade space have diluted the quality and timeliness of decision making by the secretary of the Air Force and the chief of staff. Our core problem involves a systemic failure to create trade spaces that integrate the information used in our separate planning, budgeting, and acquisition processes to holistically inform the Air Force's decisions. The inability to successfully integrate these processes creates programmatic instabilities that lead to cost and schedule overruns, reinforces political vulnerabilities which undermine our ability to implement a path forward, and, ultimately, limits our capacity to maximize delivery of war-fighting value.
This situation is of particular concern as we face a significant budget crisis and imminent reductions in defense spending. Figure 1 illustrates this point by presenting a notional "benefit versus cost" chart that defines value as benefit at cost. Our fear is that, for the amount of money we spend on our Air Force, we are not maximizing the benefit. If we continue on our current path, we run the risk of diminishing our capabilities at a time when we face increasingly compelling and diverse security issues that will undoubtedly require a full range of leading-edge air, space, and cyber capabilities. (1) Reversing these effects demands new thinking and a new approach.
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A more effective option entails a holistic, value-focused approach that expands visibility into our decision trade space by identifying alternatives that maximize our capabilities and budgets while capitalizing on the strengths of our established processes. This new approach would take advantage of the best information available in our planning, budgeting, and acquisition processes and allow Air Force leaders to simultaneously assess the assumptions, costs, benefits, and alternatives of decisions and expand the trade-off between benefit and cost. We can use this scalable approach to explore strategic-level trade-offs at the capabilities or mission-requirements level of analysis, as well as trade-offs for particular systems and programs. Furthermore, this approach enables necessary justification and means for demonstrating to the Office of the Secretary of Defense and the congressional staffs the clear basis for Air Force investments. Toward that end, this article first reviews the Air Force's current Big "A" acquisition process and then compares it to how other large organizations have successfully addressed similar challenges involving prioritization and trade-space analysis. In conclusion it presents a new, value-driven approach tailored to integrate our processes and improve our ability to deliver value-maximizing solutions.
The Current Air Force Process: Our Tigers and the Three Rings
The Air Force's Big "A" acquisition processes, like the Department of Defense's (DOD), consists of three "interlocking" decision support systems (fig. 2), including the following:
* Core function lead integrators (CFLI), led by commanders of the major commands (MAJCOM), are responsible for identifying, assessing, and prioritizing the Air Force's capability needs. CFLIs, along with the Air Force-level requirements process, define and transform war-fighting needs for the 12 Air Force core functions (soon to be 13 with the addition of education and training) into prioritized investment, sustainment, and divesture recommendations for the Air Force corporate structure (AFCS). The role of the CFLI continues to evolve.
* The AFCS, which executes the Planning, Programming, Budgeting, and Execution (PPBE) process, consists of three distinct but interrelated phases: (1) planning, which produces Air Force planning guidance; (2) programming, which produces the service's program objective memorandum (POM); and (3) budgeting, which produces the Air Force's portion of the president's budget. (2) The AFCS is chaired and led by the undersecretary of the Air Force / vice chief of staff of the Air Force and managed by the Directorate of Strategic Plans and Programs. The AFCS transforms the CFLIs' investment and the MAJCOMs' inputs regarding operation and maintenance, as well as programmatic data provided by the Air Force Acquisition System, into a recommended POM submission for consideration by and approval of the secretary and chief of staff. Once approved, the POM becomes the service's budget input.
* The Air Force Acquisition System executes the Defense Acquisition System (DAS) process to acquire systems to support war-fighter requirements through engaging with appropriate industry partners and determining responsive business solutions. The service acquisition executive leads the system, which is executed through the program executive officer structure and organized, trained, and equipped by Air Force Materiel Command's organizational structure. The system transforms requirements defined by the Joint Capabilities Integration and Development System (JCIDS) and budget allocated by the PPBE system into materiel for the war fighter. Most importantly, in conjunction with the requirements owners and processes, the service acquisition executive and the acquisition process--in transparent and open communication with industry partners--are best positioned to fully explore, develop, and communicate the potential trade-space options available to the secretary and chief of staff for modernization and recapitalization, including the impacts over total life-cycle costs.
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Organizationally, responsibilities are distributed across the Air Force enterprise (fig. 3). Each organization converts …