GAO’s 2022 Weapons Systems Annual Assessment

The following is the June 8, 2022, Government Accountability Office report Weapon Systems Annual Assessment: Challenges to Fielding Capabilities Faster Persist. From the report What GAO Found For over 20 years, GAO has assessed the Department of Defense’s (DOD) weapon programs and noted significant changes in its acquisition policies and practices. GAO’s first assessment in […]

The following is the June 8, 2022, Government Accountability Office report Weapon Systems Annual Assessment: Challenges to Fielding Capabilities Faster Persist.

From the report

What GAO Found

For over 20 years, GAO has assessed the Department of Defense’s (DOD)
weapon programs and noted significant changes in its acquisition policies and
practices. GAO’s first assessment in 2003 highlighted challenges, such as
committing billions of taxpayer dollars before obtaining key information, including
reliable cost estimates and proven designs. Yet these challenges still hinder
many programs. And they slow the department’s current emphasis on delivering
capabilities to the warfighter faster.

This year’s report analyzed 63 of DOD’s costliest weapon system acquisition
programs. These programs include:

  • 40 major defense acquisition programs (MDAP);
  • four future major weapon acquisitions; and
  • 19 programs using the middle tier of acquisition (MTA) pathway, used for
    rapid prototyping and rapid fielding efforts.

GAO found that MDAPs continue to struggle with schedule delays. Over half of
the 29 MDAPs that GAO reviewed that had yet to deliver capability reported
delays during the past year (see figure). The lack of future year funding data in
the fiscal year 2022 budget request precluded GAO from assessing the MDAP
portfolio’s cost performance this year.

GAO observed a correlation between programs that obtained certain knowledge
at key points and better cost and schedule outcomes. Knowledge-based
acquisitions attain crucial information about topics such as technology maturity
before proceeding beyond key points. But the majority of MDAPs GAO reviewed
continue to not fully achieve knowledge that informs key investment decisions.
This finding is consistent with GAO’s reporting over the last 20 years.

DOD continues to leverage MTA rapid prototyping and rapid fielding efforts, with
the aim of delivering capabilities faster. MTA programs do not have comparable
milestones to facilitate consistent schedule analysis. However, three MTA
programs GAO reviewed reported challenges that may threaten the planned
program completion dates. These challenges may also hinder the programs’
ability to rapidly deliver capabilities as initially envisioned.

Further, MTA programs’ approaches to obtaining knowledge pose potential risks.
DOD is increasing its use of the MTA pathway. Yet, GAO observed that these
programs generally do not plan to attain sufficient product knowledge before
starting follow-on efforts, falling short of leading acquisition practices. This
approach increases the risk that these follow-on efforts may encounter cost,
schedule, or technical challenges during development or production.

Additionally, GAO’s past work has emphasized the importance of modernizing
DOD’s software development efforts. The department built on ongoing
modernization initiatives over the past year. For example, DOD leadership has
emphasized key practices, such as iterative development. However, most of the
39 programs that reported using a modern software development approach
deliver working software for user feedback more slowly than recommended by
industry’s Agile practices, which call for rapid, frequent delivery of software and
fast feedback cycles (see figure). As a result, these programs may lose out on
some of the benefits of using a modern approach.

Download the document here.