Weapon Systems Intelligence Integration (WSII) Handbook; June 1999

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Chapter 3.

Introduction to Air Force Weapon System Acquisition

It is critical that the ISP process supports key decision points in the weapon acquisition process. The ISP process starts with the determination of a mission need and continues through production, fielding and deployment of a weapon system. This chapter takes the reader through the formal approval process of a mission need through its introduction and fulfillment by way of the acquisition process.

3.1. Integrated Weapon System Management (IWSM). IWSM refers to the Air Force Materiel Command (AFMC) management philosophy for acquiring, fielding, and sustaining weapon systems. It empowers a single manager (single face to the user) with authority over the widest range of decisions and resources to satisfy customer requirements throughout the life cycle of the weapon system. For the purposes of this handbook, weapon system refers to major Air Force acquisition systems (e.g., aircraft, precision guided munitions (PGMs); Command, Control, Communications, Computers, and Intelligence (C4I) systems; etc).

3.1.1. The Acquisition Cycle. The Acquisition Cycle consists of a series of four phases and corresponding milestones (decision/approval points) which span the life cycle of a weapon system.

Figure 3.1 -- The Acquisition Cycle Determination of Mission Need. While not a formal part of the Acquisition Cycle, the determination of mission need is of great importance. Air Force Major Commands (MAJCOMs) conduct Mission Area Analyses (MAA) to assess the capabilities of the current force structure to meet the projected threat or perform an assigned mission. Deficiencies are derived from such assessments. The MAJCOM then attempts to resolve the deficiency. The first choice -- due to the relatively low cost -- is a non-materiel solution such as a change in organization, doctrine or tactics, or additional/modified training. If a non-materiel solution does not resolve the deficiency, the MAJCOM looks for potential materiel solutions. The order of precedence for determining materiel solutions, based on the concept of minimizing cost and risk, is:

• Use or modification of an existing US military system
• Use or modification of an existing commercially developed or Allied system
• Cooperative research and development program with one or more Allied nations
• New Joint-Service development program
• New Service-unique development program

Figure 3.2 -- Mission Area Analysis

Once the MAJCOM determines that a materiel solution is required, it generates a Mission Needs Statement (MNS). The MNS documents the deficiency in terms of an operational capability. It is not a system solution.

Figure 3.3 -- The Requirements Generation Process Phase 0: Concept Exploration (CE). During Concept Exploration, the lead agency conducts studies of alternative concepts and develops preliminary Life Cycle Cost (LCC) estimates. These studies consider factors such as alternate design concepts, alternative methods of logistics support, and producibility. The Acquisition Strategy and Concept Baselines are developed in Phase 0 to support the Milestone I decision. This phase is generally short (1-2 years) and relatively low cost. Phase I: Program Definition & Risk Reduction (PDRR). The objective of PDRR is to analyze major system alternatives and to reduce technical risk. Typical activities include: prototype development, developmental test and evaluation (DT&E), technical reviews and identification of potential environmental consequences. The Acquisition Strategy and Development Baseline are refined in Phase I to support the Milestone II decision process. Phase I typically lasts 2-3 years but can stretch to as many as 5 years for high-cost, high-risk programs that involve prototype development (e.g., F-22). Phase II: Engineering and Manufacturing Development (EMD). EMD is focused on maturing the system design into a producible, cost-effective system. Heavy emphasis is placed on testing. Developmental Test and Evaluation (DT&E) is conducted to ensure specifications are met, and Operational Test and Evaluation (OT&E) is conducted to ensure the system is operationally effective and operationally suitable. During Phase II, the Acquisition Strategy is further refined, the Production Baseline is defined, and the support plan is completed. This phase usually lasts several years (4-7) and is often very costly. Phase III: Production, Fielding/Deployment, and Operational Support (PF/DOS). The system is produced and delivered (along with the supporting infrastructure) to the end user during Phase III. The objective of PF/DOS is to establish safe, efficient production and support base; achieve an operational capability that satisfies the mission; and ensure the system continues to provide capabilities required to meet the mission need. Typical activities include monitoring system performance and readiness, identifying and correcting system shortcoming/deficiencies to improve performance and supportability, conducting follow-on OT&E, and monitoring environmental impact and preparation for disposal. Support continues throughout the life cycle. Major Modification Approval. During Phase III, the Milestone Decision Authority may determine if a major modification (or modifications) to a system still in production is warranted. These changes may be prompted by a failure to meet thresholds, new technology, changed/improved threat, or a late-developing requirement. Approval may return a program to an earlier phase of the acquisition cycle depending on the technical complexity/maturity of the modification being considered. Milestones. A decision milestone precedes each phase and represents the point in the cycle at which the designated Milestone Decision Authority (MDA) considers the program for initiation/advancement to the next phase. For example, the MDA decides at Milestone 0 whether proposed solutions merit the development of concept studies (Phase 0). Updated acquisition plans for the program are approved at each milestone and goals (exit criteria) are established which the program must meet in order to complete the upcoming phase. Program performance in the current phase is measured against the exit criteria, which were developed at the preceding milestone. For example, at Milestone II, the program’s performance in Phase I is measured against the exit criteria developed at Milestone I.

3.1.2. Acquisition Categories (ACAT). Weapons system and C3I system programs are placed in one of four Acquisition Categories based on the dollar value and level at which decision authority resides. These categories were established to facilitate decentralized decision making, yet comply with Congressional mandates for appropriate oversight.




Review Level




$355M RDT&E or

$2.1B Procurment






$355M RDT&E

$2.1B Procurment

Service HQ




$135M RDT&E or

$640M Procurment

Service HQ




Not ACAT I or II

Lowest Level


Lowest Level


*FY96 dollars

Note: The CAEs and DAE can elevate the ACAT level at any time due to the visibility and/or importance of a program.

Figure 3.4 -- Acquisition Categories ACAT I. ACAT I programs, known as Major Defense Acquisition Programs (MDAP), are one type of Major System Program. They must meet one of two cost criteria: at least $355 million in Research, Development, Test, & Evaluation (RDT&E); or $2.1 billion in procurement (constant FY96 dollars). These programs are further differentiated by the decision authority level:

- ACAT ID programs are approved at the Department of Defense level by the Undersecretary of Defense for Acquisition and Technology (USD A&T), also called the Defense Acquisition Executive (DAE).

- ACAT IC programs are approved at the Service level either by the service secretary or, more usually for the Air Force, by the Assistant Secretary for Acquisition, who is the Component Acquisition Executive (CAE).

Some programs that do not meet the dollar thresholds, but have high Congressional interest, may nevertheless be established as ACAT I by the decision authority. An example is combat identification systems developed in the wake of the furor following the downing of a coalition helicopter by US fighters over Iraq. ACAT II. ACAT II programs fall below ACAT I dollar thresholds, but meet at least $135 million in RDT&E or $640 million in procurement funds. The decision authority is at the component (CAE) level. ACAT III. ACAT III programs fall below ACAT II dollar thresholds and are approved at the lowest appropriate level. This could be at the component level or at the component’s Program Executive Office. Within the Air Force, that authority usually resides within the AF Materiel Command.

3.2. Exceptions to the Acquisition Cycle. Not all programs follow the classic acquisition model. Initiatives in acquisition reform, as well as the increased use of Advanced Concept Technology Demonstrations (ACTD), provide challenging opportunities for the WSIIO to assess and provide intelligence infrastructure support.

3.2.1. Acquisition Streamlining. The Federal Acquisition Streamlining Act (FASA) of 1994 ushered in recent changes in acquisition regulations (often referred to as acquisition reform). For programs that are designated as streamlined acquisition programs, FASA provides DoD authority to use commercial practices in acquisition programs. Often these practices result in fewer government "specs" and decrease the overall cost of the weapon system. Streamlined acquisition programs are characterized by their short duration and use of a "rolling down-select" concept (i.e., start with many competitors than down-select to two, then to one). By their very nature, streamlined acquisition programs can go from Pre-Milestone 0 to IOC in as little as 6 years. Additionally, these programs often use competition in the first two phases of development to reduce risk and gain a more competitive average unit production price. Streamlined acquisition programs can therefore be more challenging to a WSIIO who must ensure adequate intelligence support to a system in a relatively short time. Also, the WSIIO may need to provide assessments of each offeror’s concept at each stage of the program. The result of this analysis may lead to separate ISPs for each contractor design. As with traditional acquisition programs, the key to successfully supporting a streamlined acquisition program is to get involved early (Pre-Milestone 0).

3.2.2. Advanced Concept Technology Demonstrations (ACTD). The ACTD is an integrating effort to assemble and demonstrate a significant, new military capability, based upon maturing technologies in a real-time operation at a scale adequate to clearly establish operational utility and system integrity. A major benefit of an ACTD is the ability to field an operational capability much faster than the current (non-streamlined) acquisition process allows. ACTD programs are required to demonstrate and field a new capability in 2-4 years. They are characterized by a warfighting sponsor who accepts the capability in his command as an ACTD "leave-behind" or residual capability following a rigorous military utility assessment (MUA) period. Although usually fielded in small numbers (i.e., fielded prototypes), residual ACTD systems can be complex in nature and require significant intelligence infrastructure integration (e.g., the Predator UAV). Following successful conclusion of an MUA, an ACTD program may be approved to begin an EMD phase in preparation for a full scale production decision.

3.3. Intelligence Support to IWSM. This section provides a brief overview of how WSIIOs orchestrate the creation, coordination, and implementation of intelligence infrastructure support to an Air Force weapon system. More detailed treatment of the subject will be presented in the following sections of this handbook.

3.3.1. Intelligence Support Objectives. A WSIIO must lead the Intelligence Community in developing an Intelligence Support Plan (ISP) that documents the intelligence infrastructure necessary for a specific weapon system or class of weapon systems. The main objectives of the effort are to:

• Identify all intelligence infrastructure requirements early and ensure that actions are taken to satisfy those requirements.

• Ensure that actions planned to provide infrastructure support fit into the existing acquisition process.

• Maximize use of existing staff and structure, to include national-level intelligence organizations down to the field level.

3.3.2. Support Throughout the Life Cycle. The following paragraphs summarize what should happen at critical points in the process.

Prior to Milestone 0: During mission need establishment, the using command assigns an WSIIO to provide input to and review the Mission Needs Statement (MNS). The operating command WSIIO conducts a detailed analysis to determine whether the existing intelligence infrastructure is sufficient to meet the need or whether intelligence shortfalls may exist. When the MNS reaches the Pentagon during the "for comment" coordination phase, 497 IG/INO assigns a WSIIO to take the first quick look across the Air Force at the intelligence support needed. The 497 IG/INO WSIIO documents the implications of this early look at intelligence infrastructure needs, performs any necessary coordination, and includes appropriate comments in the MNS.

Prior to Milestone I: An Intelligence Support Working Group (ISWG) is formed immediately after Milestone 0. The ISWG is called by the 497 IG/INO WSIIO and the operating command WSIIO, with representation from AQ, XO, AFMC, and functional experts from other commands, agencies, and organizations. The ISWG helps the 497 IG/INO WSIIO build the Intelligence Support Plan (ISP). Once coordinated and approved, the ISP forms the baseline for providing intelligence infrastructure support to a program throughout its life cycle. Like the ORD, 497 IG/INO reviews all ISPs in advance of each milestone decision. ISWG inputs are also incorporated into the Analysis of Alternatives (AoA) as part of the projected life-cycle cost for a given program.

Milestone I and Beyond: The ISWG needs to remain aware of all programmatic events and continues to monitor ISP execution throughout the weapon system’s development. WSIIOs are involved with the acquisition process to ensure that intelligence issues are properly addressed. WSIIOs should participate in summits, design reviews, test working groups, and other program management forums to monitor overall intelligence support. That way they can ensure ISP requirements are up-to-date for the periodic reviews needed before each Milestone and at other critical points. In-depth involvement in the acquisition process will enable the WSIIOs to fulfill their role as the catalysts in ensuring satisfaction of intelligence requirements.

3.4. Frequently Asked Questions

3.4.1 What regulations govern acquisition activities within the Department of Defense? There are numerous regulations that govern acquisition activities. Two of the most important governing documents are: DoD Directive (DoDD) 5000.1 and DoD Regulation 5000.2-R. DoDD 5000.1 establishes guiding principles for all defense acquisition. DoD 5000.2-R specifies mandatory policies and procedures for Major Defense Acquisition Programs (MDAPs) and Major Automated Information System (MAIS) acquisition programs. You can find a complete listing of regulations in the Defense Acquisition Deskbook reference library.

3.4.2 What is the Defense Acquisition Deskbook? The Defense Acquisition Deskbook (DAD) contains information which Program Managers (PMs) and other participants in the defense acquisition process can refer to for assistance in implementing guiding principles and mandatory procedures.

3.4.3 What is "Cost as an Independent Variable" (CAIV)? The methodologies used to acquire and operate affordable DoD systems by setting aggressive, achievable life-cycle cost objectives, and managing these objectives by trading off performance and schedule as necessary. Cost objectives must balance mission needs with projected out-year resources.

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