Middle Tier of Acquisition (MTA)

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Middle Tier Acquisition (MTA) Planning

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.

Reference Source: DoDI 5000.80, Paragraph 3.1.a


DoD Components will develop a merit-based process for the consideration of innovative technologies and new capabilities to meet needs communicated by the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the Combatant Commanders. This process will result in an approved requirement and a DA signed acquisition decision memorandum (ADM) that validates the rationale for using the MTA pathway and identifies the full funding required.

Before beginning an MTA, there are multiple preparation activities that must be conducted in order to satisfy the entrance criteria for an MTA Program:

Get an Approved Requirement
Plan a Prototyping Project
Prepare an Acquisition Strategy and other required documentation
Prepare Contract(s)
Estimate Costs and Secure Funding

Check out the MTA FAQs and MTA Tips for potentially related questions from the field and helpful tips!

Planning Prototyping Projects

Reference Source: DoD Prototyping Handbook, Nov 2019

Successful prototyping begins with effective planning. For traditional acquisition programs, that usually begins with an acquisition strategy and an acquisition plan. Prototyping projects, however, are not obligated to comply with the same documentation requirements as traditional
acquisition programs, and not all of the traditional acquisition content is essential for prototyping projects. Instead, plans for prototyping projects should include only the planning content necessary to effectively execute and manage the project.

The most critical element of a prototyping project plan is a clear, unambiguous purpose statement for the project. This statement should include a clear articulation of the problem/need to be addressed, a description of the future decision to be made, the data set that will be generated by the project, and an explanation of how that data will be used to inform the decision. Often, PMs and approval authorities make the mistake of identifying too many variables for a prototyping project to focus on. Instead, prototyping projects should be designed to focus on answering one question at a time. When that question is answered, if appropriate, the process can be repeated to answer additional questions as many times as time and budget permits. Focusing on multiple questions at one time introduces unnecessary concurrent risks to the project and may result in data that are inaccurately applied to answer the questions.

After the purpose statement is defined, the following foundational planning topics should be considered for the plan:

  • Prototype Description
  • Funding and Cost: funding source and execution plan
  • Schedule: project schedule, including technical stage gates and “go/no-go” criteria
  • Risks: project risks and plans to mitigate the risks


Best Practices for Planning Prototyping Projects

Reference Source: DoD Prototyping Handbook, Nov 2019

Prototyping SMEs suggested the following additional topics and considerations for prototyping project plans:

  • Cross-Functional Team (CFT). At a minimum, decision-makers, operators who identified the capability need, technology experts, and the transition partner should be identified. Points of contact from the requirements, contracting, finance, and developmental and operational testing communities should also be considered.
  • Evaluation Discussion. A discussion of how the prototype will be evaluated in a relevant environment. The evaluation criteria that will be used to determine if the project has accomplished its purpose should also be included.
  • Integration with Existing Systems. If the project is conducted in support of an existing major defense acquisition program (MDAP) or fielded PoR, the plan should address how the prototype will integrate with the MDAP acquisition strategy or the configuration of a
    fielded PoR.
  • Intellectual Property and Data Rights. A clear description of DoD rights to any intellectual property or data generated from the project should be included.
  • Sustainment Considerations. Sustainment considerations should be included for projects that expect to leave a residual capability in the field.
  • Transition Plan. A discussion of what will happen with the prototype at the conclusion of the project if the project accomplishes its stated purpose should be included. The transition plan should include as much detail as is available, especially the transition
    partner if known.
  • Waivers and Delegations. A listing of recommended waivers and delegations required to effectively execute the prototyping project in the shortest possible timeframe while ensuring sufficient project management rigor and oversight should be included.


Example Criteria for Planning Prototyping Projects

Reference Source: DoD Prototyping Handbook, Nov 2019

The following are examples of the criteria that three DoD organizations within the Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Research and Engineering (OUSD(R&E)) use in planning their prototyping projects:

  • The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) uses a set of questions crafted by a former DARPA director, George H. Heilmeier, to help Agency officials think through and evaluate proposed research programs. A slightly modified set of the questions, known as the “Heilmeier Catechism,” follow:
    • What are you trying to do? What problem are you trying to solve? (Articulateyour objectives using absolutely no jargon.)
    • How is it done today? Who does it? What are the limits of current practice?
    • What is new about your approach? Why do you think you can be successful at this time? (Have you done a first-order analysis of your approach?)
    • Who cares? If you are successful, what difference will it make?
    • What are the risks?
    • How long will it take? How much will it cost? What are the mid-term and final “exams” to check for success?
      • What does success look like and how will you demonstrate it?
      • What is your execution plan? How will you measure progress? What are your milestones/metrics? How will your results transition?
  • The Rapid Reaction Technology Office (RRTO) uses a high-level prototyping project planning template for its projects. This 3-page template includes the following elements:

    • Project Description
    • Objective and Value
    • Key Participants
    • Metrics
    • Project Schedule, Task Descriptions, and Deliverables
    • Risk Assessment
    • Spend Plan
  • The Joint Capability Technology Demonstration (JCTD) office uses a robust planning process for their projects. Their plans consist of two primary sections (see Table 3). The first, an Implementation Directive, acts as a “contract” among stakeholders. The second section is the Management Plan, a living document that is updated throughout the life of the project.