Major Capability Acquisition (MCA)


Major Capability Acquisition

Major Capability Acquisition is used to acquire and modernize military unique programs.

How to Use This Site

Each page in this pathway presents a wealth of curated knowledge from acquisition policies, guides, templates, training, reports, websites, case studies, and other resources. It also provides a framework for functional experts and practitioners across DoD to contribute to the collective knowledge base. This site aggregates official DoD policies, guides, references, and more.

DoD and Service policy is indicated by a BLUE vertical line.

Directly quoted material is preceeded with a link to the Reference Source.

MCA Home MDD MS A MS B MS C IOC FOC Operations and Sustainment Materiel Solutions Analysis Technology Maturation and Risk Reduction Engineering and Manufacturing Development Production and Deployment

Lifecycle View of Major Capability Acquisition

MDD Milestone A Milestone B Milestone C CDD Validation DRFPRD FRP/FD IOC/FOC Materiel Solution Analysis Phase Requirements Analysis of Alternatives Strategies Cost Estimation and Affordability Program Management Technology Maturation and Risk Reduction Phase SRR ASR Prototypes Design System SFR PDR CDR Engineering and Manufacturing Development Phase Develop System Test and Evaluate System TRR OTRR SVR PRR LRIP FRP Sustain System Study Contracts Prototype Contracts Development Contracts Production Contracts Sustainment Contracts

Reference Source: DODI 5000.02 Section 4.2.c


Major Capability Acquisition: To acquire and modernize military unique programs that provide enduring capability. These acquisitions typically follow a structured analyze, design, develop, integrate, test, evaluate, produce, and support approach. This process is designed to support major defense acquisition programs, major systems, and other complex acquisitions. Acquisition and product support processes, reviews, and documentation will be tailored based on the program size, complexity, risk, urgency, and other factors. Software-intensive components may be acquired via the software acquisition pathway, with the outputs and dependencies integrated with the overall major capability pathway.

General Procedures

 Reference Source: DODI 5000.85, Section 3.1

 Program Planning


  • A rapid, iterative approach to capability development reduces cost, avoids technological obsolescence, and reduces acquisition risk.  Consistent with that intent, acquisitions will rely on mature, proven technologies and early tester involvement.  Planning will capitalize on commercial solutions and non-traditional suppliers, and expand the role of warfighters and security, counterintelligence, and intelligence analysis throughout the acquisition process.
  • Acquisition programs will be designed to facilitate capability enhancements by using open systems architectures and common, open, and consensus-based standards.  An open system design supports sustainment and rapid integration of new or updated subsystems into the platform.
  • To facilitate a flexible and rapid acquisition process, MDAs, program managers (PMs), and other relevant authorities will implement certain processes described in Flexible Implementation.
Decision Reviews

The purpose of decision reviews embedded in the acquisition procedures described in this section is to carefully assess a program’s readiness to proceed to the next acquisition phase and to make a sound investment decision committing the Department’s financial resources.  Consequently, reviews will be issue and data focused to facilitate an examination of relevant questions affecting the decisions under consideration and to allow the MDA to judge whether the program is ready to proceed.  The policies outlined in [the bullets below] will guide decision reviews:

  • The MDA is the sole and final decision authority.  Staff members and staff organizations support and facilitate the MDA’s execution of that authority.
  • The Defense Acquisition Board will advise the DAE on critical acquisition decisions when the DAE, or designee, is the MDA.  The DAE or designee will chair the Defense Acquisition Board.  Similar procedures will be established at the DoD Component level for use by other MDAs.  An acquisition decision memorandum (ADM) will document decisions resulting from reviews.
  • Overarching Integrated Product Teams at the OSD level, and similar organizations within the DoD Components, are expected to collectively assist the MDA in making sound investment decisions for the department, and to ensure programs are structured and resourced to succeed.  These organizations are not decision bodies and they and their leaders do not supplant the authority of the PM, Program Executive Officer (PEO), component acquisition executive (CAE), or DAE.


DoD Process Relationships

Acquisition, requirements, and budgeting are closely related and must operate simultaneously in close coordination.  Validated requirements provide the basis for defining the products that will be acquired through the acquisition system.  The budgeting process determines DoD priorities and resource allocations and provides the funds necessary to execute planned programs.  Adjustments may have to be made during a program’s life cycle to keep the three processes aligned to ensure programs are executable and to adapt to evolving circumstances.  Decisions in this context must consider mission area or portfolio considerations as well as those directly impacting the program under review.

Flexible Implementation

 Reference Source: DODI 5000.85, Section 3.2

 MDAs will structure program strategies and oversight, phase content, the timing and scope of decision reviews, and decision levels based on the specifics of the product being acquired, including complexity, risk, security, and urgency to satisfy validated capability requirements.


PMs will “tailor-in” the regulatory information that will be used to describe their program at the MDD or program inception. In this context, “tailor-in” means that the PM will identify and recommend for MDA approval, the regulatory information that will be employed to document program plans and how that information will be formatted and provided for review by the decision authority.

  • The PM’s recommendation will be reviewed by the MDA and the decision will be documented in an ADM.
  • MDAs will resolve issues related to implementation of this approach, and will coordinate, when necessary, with other regulatory document approval authorities to facilitate its implementation.
  • Statutory requirements will not be waived unless permitted by the relevant statute.

Technologies successfully demonstrated in an operational environment via the Rapid Prototyping procedures in the Middle Tier Acquisition pathway, or other prototyping authorities, may be transitioned to major capability acquisition programs at decision points proposed by the PM and approved by the MDA. The technologies may provide the technical foundation for a formal acquisition program, incrementally improve a program capability in support of approved requirements, or support the development and insertion of more efficient program components.  Similarly, products and technologies that have been successfully demonstrated via the Rapid Fielding procedures under the Middle Tier Acquisition pathway may provide the basis for a program developed in accordance with the procedures in this issuance.  PMs for Middle Tier programs will identify and develop the statutory and regulatory information needed to facilitate an efficient pathway transition. DoDI 5000.80 provides additional direction for middle tier acquisitions.


The Acquisition Guidebook, available online at, provides the acquisition workforce with discretionary best practice that should be tailored to the needs of each program. The Acquisition Guidebook is intended to inform thoughtful program planning and facilitate effective program management.

Acquisition Process Decisions and Phases

 Reference Source: DODI 5000.85, Section 3.4

Acquisition decisions will be made at the lowest authorized level, commensurate with the ACAT and program risk, to ensure they are timely, and made by those with the greatest knowledge of the program. Figure 2 depicts a major capability acquisition model. The paragraphs that follow describe the decision points and activity phases that apply to almost any acquisition.

Figure 2. Major Capability Acquisition Model