What went wrong with Army acquisitions

What went wrong with Army acquisitions

According to a report by a pair of top former Army acquisitions officials, Gilbert Decker and retired Gen. Lou Wagner, the service has only itself to blame for the years it wasted and the billions of dollars it squandered on failed weapons programs. Decker and Wagner’s study, filed in January but not publicly released until Thursday, depicts a bureaucracy so sluggish and impenetrable it makes the other services look as agile as dot-com startups by comparison.

From 1990 to 2010, the Army began and then cancelled 22 major programs, Decker and Wagner write, at an approximate cost of $1 billion per year starting in 1996 and rising as high as $3.8 billion per year after 2004. None of that spending yielded any programs that went into production. “The Army cannot afford to continue losing funds in this manner,” the authors write. So what happened? The Army happened.

Per Decker and Wagner:

The panel found the Army’s documented reasons for cancellation to be too general and sometimes in direct conflict with the facts based on personal experience with many of the 22 programs and discussions with others familiar with them. There are many different causes that contribute to a program’s cancellation, but it is also true that many cancelled programs shared several of the same problems. A few were cancelled because the threat changed; however, more common causes included:

• Overly optimistic forecast of funding available for Army modernization.

• Weak baseline, modeling, trade studies or analysis of alternatives.

• Unconstrained weapon system requirements.

• Underestimation of risk, particularly technology readiness levels.

• Failure to eliminate technological risk prior to Milestone B (MS B) approval.

• Program skipped or under-resourced pre-MS B prototyping.

• Too many programs started only to prove unaffordable in the budget and Future Years Defense Program (FYDP).

• Affordability reprioritization.

• Schedule slip.

• Requirements and technology creep.

• Cost overruns.

• Program restructured, quantities cut, unit costs skyrocketed and program support lost.

So what happened? The various lobes of the Army brain, it appears, couldn’t or wouldn’t talk to each other. Decker and Wagner also blame something you’ve heard about before here on Buzz, in another context — the fad of the late 1990s and early 2000s to run DoD “like a business,” (Buzz’s phrase, not theirs) which meant cutting back on civilian managers and letting contractors manage their own or other contractors’ projects, among other things. Here’s how the authors explain it:

During the period when these programs were being cancelled, the Army experienced erosion in the core competencies of the personnel responsible for the development of requirements and the acquisition of systems and services. This was particularly true in the case of military operations and cost analysts in [Training and Doctrine Command]; [Army Materiel Command]; Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Army, Acquisition, Logistics and Technology (ASA(ALT)); and the Army Staff. The primary reasons for this erosion were the initiative begun in the mid-1990s to reduce acquisition personnel and the drive since 2001 to reduce the generating force and increase the operating force to cope with the Global War on Terror. Unfortunately, this has had unintended deleterious consequences on the Army’s ability to acquire materiel and services.

If there’s a silver lining here, it’s that Decker and Wagner go on to write that this doesn’t necessarily translate to readiness problems for today’s force — the U.S. Army is still the best-equipped in the world, they write, in part because of Congress’ willingness to spend whatever it took to give troops the best armor, best-protected vehicles, and anything else they asked for. But that spigot is going to shut off, so Army acquisitions has to get its act together, the authors warn — and they wrote this in January! If only they could have known their report would be officially released the very week Congress was debating $866 billion in defense cuts.

So what’s to be done? We’ll review Decker and Wagner’s recommendations in depth in a forthcoming post.

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From what I understand from defense contractor friends, the major problem is not even addressed: The Army testing group is where projects die.…. for a litany of reasons.

All of the services share a dream like approach to new things, with a seemingly uncontrollable urge to include the latest widget they can identify as useful, whether realistic or not, and ignore the cost. The F35 is one the DDG1000 is another the B2 is another, as well as future combat system. We are close to buying one instance of each new “system”.

The whole military procurement system is mired in making each project as big as possible, making as many states have a vested interest in the outcome, and creating the most grandiose claims possible.

I have second hand evidence that the procurement people in some of the armed services are more interested in who gets a contract than are the objectives realistic and can the company achieve the purpose of the contract.


I don’t have much issue with most of your comment but where we have survived the “failure?” of the other programs, the F-35 is a different story. Our Harriers are falling out of the sky, routinely and soon to be followed by the wornout F-16 and F-15. Without a strong aviation defense of our borders, there are many other peoples who would like to have our bountiful country. The idiots who live here can easily be duped into boarding the “free, all expenses paid (one way) cruise to no where” and leave our highly desired resources to the more cunning. Make no mistake the F-35 program had better succeed or we will be “habla espanol”. God Bless America

@ Running Bear: the Arizona ANG could take out the entire Mexican AF in about 10 minutes, so you can sleep securely, the southern borders are well guarded. And a new built F16 or F15 would surely not fall out of the sky? (or be grounded indefinitely like the F22?)

US system is the failure, don’t search other reason

It is not necessary to change.

Survival is not mandatory.

I don’t know anything about weapons systems acquisiion, but everything the article says is also true of Army service contracts. The system is the problem.

While it is encouraging that the Army is facing reality somewhat (usually takes a retired General in order to admit something’s wrong), you make a very good point that the report misses root causes, which are even deeper than the Army test community. Example:
General Peter Schoomaker: “the Future Combat System is going to be the Stryker brigade on steroids”. Army Secretary Harvey: “the Future Combat Systems program is no longer just a drawing-board concept“
Maj Gen Cartwright: “Ladies and gentlemen, we’re out of the PowerPoint days“
The best acquisition work force in the world cannot make a flawed, too risky, operationally unsuitable concept based on flawed strategic planning into a successful acquisition program, especially with leaders like this. The corruption, and the solution, must come at the top.

The cancer is in congress. when the DoD budget is based on how much money goes to each state rather than what the Armed forces needs, there is going to be a conflict of interest. Congress perpetuated FCS failure and was taken advantage by contractors; Cunning, dirty, nasty, but very smart contractors realized that if they built FCS or pieces of it in as many states as possible they would own congress (Not to include campaign contributions). and to compound the problem we throw an Army climate where failure and mistakes are have Zero tolerance, driving acquisition officers to embellish the truth. This three-way (yes I meant to use this word) is the catalyst for all the common causes leading to program failures.

Yeah, what could possibly be wrong with the way the Army buys stuff? They pay contractors more to lie and perform incompetently during development, then they wonder why the contractors lie and perform incompetently. They don’t pay any extra for good work done on time and on budget, then they wonder why no one comes in on time and on budget. Everyone who bets against capitalism working fails. It doesn’t matter if it is the US Army, WW2 Germany, or the USSR. They always fail.

ROTGLMAO! your defense contractor friends are obviously upset when their products hit the test phase and problems appear. You dont mention that testers are only there to confirm that the performance promised by your friends is delivered (during the DT&E), and that the performance required by the users is available (OT&D). Now if the “requirements” are serrupitiously eroded during development and production by cost / risk averse program management decisions, or flawed contractor design efforts, testers get to be the “bad guys” by finding those shortfalls BEFORE some poor stiff in the field needs to have the capability; thinks he has the capability; and finds, when he pulls the trigger, that he does not. If that makes testers the problem, so be it.

The “one instance” of each new system is the old “Norm Augustine Law”, and is a very scary possiblity today.

LOL! If the cancer is as you describe it we have been living with it for quite a while. Check out how the initial contracts for muskets for the Continental Army were written, as well as the contracts for the first real warships (USS Constitution, Constellation, etc). Personally, Im afraid that the very real play of politics in government procurements is an unfortunate consequence of our democratic (little “d”), representative form of government, and THAT my friend is an institution that all of us with any military or civilian government experience whatsoever have been sworn to support and defend! It may not be perfect but its better than whatever is in second place! :-)

Saying “the system is the problem” misses the accountability for People. People make systems. The problem is with People.

This is a good point. Program officials and Contractors who take pride in their work should be anxious and eager to have their systems tested. Contractors who do quality work should not need to fear testing. Testing is a key piece of information for decision makers. Products that have real utility will survive testing: Predator, for example.

If it were not for those cunning, dirty, nasty, contractors you would not have any military equipment. The government folks are always doing audits on the contractors and the profit they make on average is about 10%. Oshkosh won the FMTV contract for a mere 1% profit. The reason that a hammer costs $500.00 in the military is the requirements place on it by the Government. The hammer has to be unbreakable, made of gold, can only weigh an ounce and can only be 3 inches long and drive a 16 penny nail in one strike.

So true! The right people, with the right mindset, and the motivation / authority to execute can make just about any system work. People tend to do what they set their minds to do, whether that is to put a weapon system in the field, or insure good OERs/SF-50s. Unfortunately, so long as its easier and more rewarding to get that good OER/SF-50 based on good appearance and presentation, and not be held ultimately and personally accountable for fielding the weapon system, things will stay the same. Pavlov’s dog can’t be all wrong.

At least one issue is the (sometimes) adversarial relationship between the gov and contractors. When that is matched with ill-defined and poorly understood requirements, political inputs instead of user driven ones, and the necessity to win contracts by being low bidder; it’s amazing anything decent ever gets built and delivered.

Having worked both sides of the procurement fence, let me say that there are cowpies in both pastures! Contractors have to make profit or the doors close and nobody wins. Govies have to trust the technical expertise of the contractors to a certain degree, or you spend all your time in oversight and auditing, and nobody wins. There is a “sweet spot” in the middle but it takes the right kind of people (on both sides) to make it happen. Insulting contractors in general (or govies in general) gets nobody anywhere but into the headlines for another failed procurement.

What do you expect! Good ole boy bull—-. What ever happen to try before you squander.

One minor problem with your last sentence EE/Oblat/Chuck. Google “Predator failed IOT&E.” Then click on the first link which is a Globalsecurity​.org article about the RQ-1A Predator testing that found: “The Predator UAV system is not operationally effective or suitable as tested during the IOT&E” even though it was actively participating in real world missions.

Testers have a tendency to expect excessive perfection from systems based on unrealistic Op Mode Summary/Mission Profiles that are too difficult for new systems. Can you imagine if car manufacturers used testing to kill off instead of improving their vehicles?

lol I’m neither Oblat nor Chuck. You misunderstand what I mean. What I mean is that Testers should do their jobs. Decision makers should do theirs. In the case of Predator, the testers could be dead right. However, the perception of Predator is that it is a winner, racking up kills, and saving lives. It would not do this if it didn’t have strategic utility. The test findings are probably used to implement modifications that will make Predator even better. Predator is accomplishing strategic political purposes, which is what DoD should be about, consistent with Clauswitz theories that “war is a continuation of politics” Final point. Predator did not follow DoD’s cradle to grave process. It is an example of an emergent technology that DoD has now found incredibly valuable. DoD should adjust its acquisition strategy so that more resources are available to take advantage of emergent opportunities. Sinking more and more billions into failing “planned” programs is unwise.

I’ve skimmed through the report, and think that most of its criticisms are fair. There are a lot of good ideas in this report — re-empower the DASCs, bring back DUSA (OR) — it is far from just a hidebound recitation of system engineering breakdown. It is a pretty tough statement, and if anything, it didn’t cut deeply enough. For those who never get tired of beating dead FCS horses, I will note that it does rescope PEO Integration to become PEO Network. Let those who have eyes to read understand what this means for Big Army. Now, whether the report is at all correct about RDECOM, honest people can differ on this subject, it should at least be taken as a warning shot. RDECOM really was the resurrection of LABCOM. Given the beating the Army research budget has taken in recent years, one would think that centralization was a good thing. As David Hackworth used to say, there’s no horse to dead to beat. So to address the original question — no it wasn’t all the testers’ fault. I propose a toast for a happy ending to all major programs and the many people, ideas and research projects that make them possible.

The problem is not people it is the LEADERS. We now have leadership more involved with cool powerpoints and political posturing than producing a quality product. There is no punishment if they produce garbage. They will get promoted because of their political connections not because of their program performance.
We need to start holding the people at the SES level accountable. They make the big bucks to make the big decisions. They should be replaced quickly if they cannot make the grade.

Actually the government groups used to do the builds. And had very good performance. Within DoD and NASA. When a group can bring in-house the technical skills needed and have leadership that actually earned the title “Leader”. Great things can happen and have.

Of course the programs die in testing. Where else would a program die? No contractor nor Army program manager will ever admit on their own that a system is far too immature or fails miserably when compared to requirements. Testers simply point out the obvious deficiencies.

Yet I just cited a clear example of an extremely valuable system, Predator (& Army version Gray Eagle) that has proven itself repeatedly in combat that could have been killed by testers. Wouldn’t it be better to employ testing to improve/revise the system or operator training/procedures? Sometimes it just takes user hands-on experience with the system.

The pictured NLOS-LS similarly was killed prematurely by testers thus creating a void for both Army and Navy. The same or similar seeker worked just fine on the end of a joint air-ground missile candidate…just needed slightly more work. Funds and a great idea were wasted due to lack of patience.

“What went wrong with Army acquisitions?”

This is a good question and the response is very simple. I have predicted the end of the FCS program at the beginning at I have seen the first concepts and I was right. The Army has make from the beginning to unrealistic requirements for is FCS Concept the entire FCS Concept was unrealistic also is application it resembled more a PC Game like C&C than the reality on the Battlefield. The FCS Program was an attempt to change the Laws of war completely but the technology was not nearly ready for such a revolution. The call for a revolution was the deadly disease of the entire FCS Program. Those the U.S. Army have chosen an evolutionary concept (a FCS light) with only better weapons and smaller unmanned units the program would very probably become a success. Other Programs like the Comanche and the Crusader were killed because of stupid ideological motivation of the former Defense Secretary Rumsfeld.

What the Army now need is a not ambitioned modernization program how cost lees and strength the fire power of the Army. To do this is not hard you not need a revolutionary design but only improves of existing weapons or new already exiting vehicles. Hear a List of recommendations for a cheaply but very effective and fast modernization of the impotent Army Vehicles.


An improved Version of the existing M1A2 how is lighter and optimally equipped with a with autoloader system, a new designed canon tower and possible with an improved engine how is more cost-effective for example a 1500 PS Diesel Motor.


As replacement for the Bradley and the M113 I think the Army sold to buy the existing Combat Vehicle 90 Variants how are made by BAE Systems and have already all important improvements how are requires by the Army for the GCV and some variants like the CV90120 much more them is required by the Army . Also the sold to buy the CV90120 Version of the CV90 as replaced for the Stryker MGS why the CV90120 has the same firepower like a M1A2 and more advance protections them every other exiting IFV in the World.

Paladin replacement:
For the replace the Army can buy new Improvement like PIM but I favor the better and also approved Armoured howitzer 2000.

Better Heavy Ammunition:

To grow the Fire Power of the Army it will be a good Idea to developed intelligent Ammunition for the MPTs and Artillery Units to give also tanks like the M1A2 or a MGS IVF Non-Line-of-Sight Abilities such Ammunition was in development under the FCS Program.

Infantry Equipment:

The Infantry need a better main Combat rifle how is deadlier and more reliable for example the SCAR H or better a more sophisticated rifle how use Caseless ammunition. And as Game Changer the Army has to buy enough XM25 to equip every Fire Team with one Unit as Secondary Weapon.

This is for example a cheap but effective modernization Strategy of the Army how can no go wrong like the FCS program. But I that the Army has nothing learn from the FCS program and as consequence I believe what the now coming modernization programs will also fail like FCS.

I think at the moment they’re only looking for lighter, wheeled, undefinable vehicles, like M-A.T.V.s and such, for guerilla warfare (“low-intensity conflicts”). Not even for new A.P.C.s or I.F.V.s . Although they cost the same.
Their Artillery was never their shortcoming, not even in high-tech wars like World War II and Iraq I + II .
Their rifles however discredit and humiliate the entire U.S. Armed Forces. U.S. grunts have become too reliant on air support to even want a decent gun.

One day Dino Mama may not answer the call, though…

Well there you have it, folks, some dude on the DoDBuzz comments board just solved all the Army’s problems. Damn, it’s a good thing YOU came along!

The Army has developed a record of refusing to move away from failing efforts becaue the acquisition professionals view the programs as their programs and so they are unwilling to consider other alternatives. They ask for innovation but the are only interested in keeping the current contractor who is building “their” solution in placebecause to switch horses would admit they have followed the wrong path before. Instead they turn on th innovation proposs and cal them “adding risk” and use that to keep the usually more expensive and less technologcally adept incumbents.

My favorite is when failing programs restructure, deliver less capability for more $$, and call those efforts “risk reduction”.

That part of Army culture goes back a long ways. Think about how inflexible General Burnside was when he sent brigade after brigade to get slaughtered at Fredericksburg, or when General Lee sent Pickett’s division to charge at Gettysburg. Some of these guys are so arrogant, they’d rather commit and lose all of our resources rather than admit they’ve made a mistake. When it comes to today’s acquisition programs, they often end up needing OSD, GAO, and Congress to pull the plug on their failed endeavors.


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