Selecting and Transitioning Pathways

Programs may tailor, combine, and transition between acquisition pathways to deliver capabilities.

Reference Source: DoDI 5000.02, Section 3.1

 

[Decision authorities] will tailor program strategies and oversight, phase content, the timing and scope of decision reviews, and decision levels based on the characteristics of the capability being acquired (including complexity, risk, and urgency) to satisfy user requirements.  

 

Reference Source: DoDI 5000.02, Section 4.1.a

 

PMs, with the approval of MDAs/DAs, may leverage a combination of acquisition pathways to provide value not otherwise available through use of a single pathway. The use of multiple pathways does not affect the application of statutory thresholds otherwise applicable to the program as a whole, such as the MDAP or major system (ACAT II) thresholds unless a statute permits. PMs employing multiple pathways will: Define the transition points from one pathway to another pathway; Anticipate, develop, and coordinate the information requirements required at the new pathway entry point. Links provided in MDID identify regulatory and statutory information requirements for major capability acquisition, and the statutory requirements for other pathways; Ensure a smooth transition.

Learn more about each pathway

Urgent Capability Acquisition

Reference Source: DoDI 5000.02, Section 4.2

 

To field capabilities to fulfill urgent existing and/or emerging operational needs or quick reactions in less than 2 years.

 

The DoD’s highest priority is to provide warfighters with the capabilities urgently needed to overcome unforeseen threats, achieve mission success, and reduce risk of casualties.  Urgent operational needs and other quick reaction capabilities are identified and approved for resolution by designated authorities.  The estimated cost of any single solution must not exceed $525 million in research, development, and test and evaluation; or $3.065 billion procurement in Fiscal Year 2020 constant dollars.  The acquisition; product support and sustainment processes; reviews; and documents are aggressively streamlined due to operational urgency.  The goal is to plan for the capability in a few weeks, with development and production measured in months.  The imperative is to quickly deliver useful capability to the warfighter in a timely fashion. 

Guiding Policies: DoD Directive 5000.71 and DoDI 5000.81 

Go to Urgent Capabilities Acquisition pathway.

Middle Tier of Acquisition

Reference Source: DoDI 5000.02, Section 4.2

 

To rapidly develop fieldable prototypes within an acquisition program to demonstrate new capabilities and/or rapidly field production quantities of systems with proven technologies that require minimal development.

 

The MTA pathway includes rapid prototyping and rapid fielding activities.  The objective of rapid prototyping is to field a prototype meeting defined requirements that can be demonstrated in an operational environment and provide for residual operational capability within 5 years of the MTA program start date.  The objective of rapid fielding is to begin production within 6 months and complete fielding within 5 years of the MTA program start date.  These activities will not be subject to the Joint Capabilities Integration and Development System or the procedures outlined in DoDD 5000.01, except to the extent specifically provided in the guidance. PMs will “tailor-in” reviews, assessments, and relevant documentation that results in an acquisition strategy customized to the unique characteristics and risks of their program. PMs will ensure operational, technical, and security risks are identified and reduced so that fielded systems are capable, effective, and resilient. PMs will comply with statutory requirements unless waived in accordance with a relevant provision. 

Guiding Policy: DoDI 5000.80

Go to Middle Tier of Acquisition Pathway.

Major Capability Acquisition

Reference Source: DoDI 5000.02, Section 4.2

 

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.

Guiding Policy: DoDI 5000.02T

Go to Major Capability Acquisition Pathway.

Software Acquisition

Reference Source: DoDI 5000.02, Section 4.2

 

To facilitate rapid and iterative delivery of software capability (e.g., software-intensive systems and/or software-intensive components or sub-systems) to the user.

 

This pathway integrates modern software development practice such as Agile Software Development, Development, Security, and Operations (DevSecOps), and Lean Practices.  Small cross-functional teams that include operational users, developmental and operational testers, software developers, and cybersecurity experts leverage enterprise services to deliver software rapidly and iteratively to meet the highest priority user needs.  These mission-focused, government-industry teams leverage automated tools for iterative development, builds, integration, testing, production, certification, and deployment of capabilities to the operational environment.

Guiding Policy: Interim Software Acquisition Policy.

Go to Software Acquisition Pathway.

Defense Business Systems

Reference Source: DoDI 5000.02, Section 4.2

 

To acquire information systems that support DoD business operations.  This pathway:  Applies to defense business capabilities and their supporting business systems, including those with “as-a-service” solutions to include: Financial and financial data feeder; Contracting; Logistics; Planning and budgeting; Installations management; Human resources management; Training and readiness systems; and may also be used to acquire non-developmental, software intensive programs that are not business systems.

 

This pathway assesses the business environment and identifies existing commercial or government solutions that could be adopted to satisfy DoD needs. The DoD reviews its business processes and revises them to align more closely with commercial or government information technology best practices.  Customization of a selected information technology solution is minimal.  The DoD reduces risk and maximizes benefits by using commercial-off-the-shelf software that has been successfully demonstrated in the commercial marketplace. 

Guiding Policy: DODI 5000.75 Business Systems Requirements and Acquisition

Go to Defense Business Systems Pathway.

Acquisition of Services

Reference Source: DoDI 5000.02, Section 4.2

 

To acquire services from the private sector including knowledge-based, construction, electronics and communications, equipment, facilities, product support, logistics, medical, research and development, and transportation services.

 

This pathway is intended to identify the required services, research the potential contractors, contract for the services, and manage performance.  The seven steps of the pathway are grouped into three phases: Plan, Develop, and Execute. 

Guiding Policy: DODI 5000.74 Acquisition of Services

Go to Acquisition of Services Pathway.

Time Considerations for Acquisition Pathways

  • Urgent Operational Needs (<2 Years)
  • Middle Tier of Acquisition: Rapid Prototyping (<5 Years)
  • Middle Tier of Acquisition: Rapid Fielding (<5 Years)

Vignettes to Use or Transition Across Acquisition Pathways

The following are notional examples of programs that transition from one acquisition pathway to another as they move to a new phase of their lifecycle. As each pathway is governed by separate policies, the program manager shall “tailor-in” the processes, reviews, and documents necessary for their program for their decision authority approval. These examples are to provide you considerations of when a program may transition and the key elements to focus on during the transition.

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Key Considerations

Plan ahead. Don’t wait until you’re done with one pathway to start the other. Include a proposed transition plan in the original acquisition strategy document you present to the relevant decision authority.  This may include multiple transition paths.  While this plan may change through execution, you should have a clear target(s) to aim at and plan for.

Collaborate in advance with functional organizations / SMEs to develop your transition plan and tailored acquisition strategy. Secure their involvement early, to avoid any last-minute objections, oversights, or surprises.

To speed up development, review, and approvals, reuse documents and approvals as much as possible. However, be sure the re-used documents focus on the appropriate scope of work. When necessary, create separate documents for separate efforts, but use previously approved documents to speed up the development, review, and approval process for any new doc’s.

The acquisition strategy should tailor in the minimal set of processes, reviews, documents necessary for what you’re acquiring at that phase/pathway of the program. Ensure each one is actually helpful for managing the program. Avoid including any “compliance-only” documents or reviews that exist only to check a box.

Get clarity on unified decision authorities, tailored processes and documents ahead of time if doing two or more pathways in parallel. Avoid situations where using multiple pathways creates multiple chains of commands.

Icons from thenounproject.com. Credits:
Plan Ahead By Gregor Cresnar ; Collaborate By Kirby Wu TW; Reuse By Turkkub, TH; Tailor In by Graphic Tigers; Get Clarity By b farias

Urgent Capability Acquisition THEN Middle Tier of Acquisition (Rapid Fielding)

A warfighting command identifies an operational shortfall and submits a requirement for initial capabilities to be delivered within 2 years. A program office uses the Urgent Capability Acquisition (UCA) pathway to develop and field a system to meet that specific need.

The new system is successful and demand from the field increases, exceeding the quantities available under the original UCA. The program office can then use the Middle Tier of Acquisition (Rapid Fielding) pathway to quickly ramp up production (within 6 months) of a larger quantity of systems based on the mature capability previously developed.

If the transition is planned as part of the UCA effort, then the contract vehicle used to meet the UCA requirement should be structured to anticipate additional quantities (contract options) exercised under the MTA Rapid Fielding path.

UCA programs have wide discretion to exclude formal milestone events and documents, so to prepare for transition considerable deliberation should be given to the milestones and documentation that may be required under the MTA Rapid Fielding path. Current MTA guidance requires submission of an approved requirements document (in accordance with Service/Component instructions), a formal cost estimate, and an approved Lifecycle Sustainment Plan. There may be other required documents as well. It is important that this be considered during UCA program execution and captured in the required UCA Disposition Analysis to ensure a smooth transition.

This blended pathway strategy provides greater flexibility in terms of quantities and can extend delivery for an additional five years. It also provides a mechanism for some minor additional development work, as needed.

Urgent Capability Acquisition THEN Major Capability Acquisition

A warfighting command identifies an operational shortfall and submits a requirement for initial capabilities to be delivered within 2 years. A program office begins development using the Urgent Capability Acquisition (UCA) pathway.

As an immediate follow-on activity, the program office can also used the Major Capability Acquisition (MCA) pathway to develop a more robust, enduring capability based on the original UCA product. Because of the common scope, requirements, and designs between the UCA and MCA efforts, the program should be able to tailor the early phases of the Major Capability Acquisition pathway to transition the system to development sooner and expedite the path to full rate production. The entry point into the MCA pathway will depend on the maturity and fitness for use of the UCA-developed system. NOTE: The program should also tailor its testing strategy to exploit the lessons learned and successes of the operationally deployed system.

This blended pathway strategy provides Warfighters with capabilities rapidly, while simultaneously addressing the scope, requirements, and designs needed for an enduring solution. It also enables a significant degree of tailoring to the MCA pathway, taking advantage of the validated designs and documents from the UCA effort. Note that even a tailored MCA pathway will still require some documents that the UCA pathway does not require, so the program office should plan to address additional statutory requirements. Considerable deliberation should be given to milestone and documentation planning that may be required in the transition to the MCA path.

Middle Tier of Acquisition (Rapid Prototyping) WITH Major Capability Acquisition

A Component may initiate an effort using the Middle Tier of Acquisition pathway to rapidly develop a prototype, demonstrate its performance in an operational environment, and field a capability within 5 years. This might involve using an OT or a FAR-based contract.

Simultaneously, the program office may also launch a parallel effort using the Major Capability Acquisition pathway to produce a more robust, enduring version of the prototype capability built under the MTA pathway. Starting the MCA effort while the MTA is still underway ensures that the program office is fully ready to receive the prototype as soon as it is delivered (after Milestone B) and is not scrambling to catch up. This approach is a sound strategy when the level of uncertainty around the MTA prototype is low.

This combination of pathways provides the Warfighters with capabilities quickly (MTA), while shaping the scope, requirements, and designs for a longer-term solution (MCA). Depending on the commonality of scope, requirements, and designs between the rapid prototype and longer-term solution, the program should be able to significantly tailor the early phases of the Major Capability Acquisition to transition to development sooner. 

Middle Tier of Acquisition (Rapid Prototyping) THEN Major Capability Acquisition

Middle Tier followed by Major Capability

A Component may initiate an effort using the Middle Tier of Acquisition pathway to rapidly develop a prototype, demonstrate its performance in an operational environment, and field a capability within 5 years. This might involve using an OT or a FAR-based contract.

As a follow-on activity, the program office may then initiate a new program using the Major Capability Acquisition pathway to produce a more robust, enduring version of the prototype capability built under the MTA pathway. Starting the MCA effort after the MTA has delivered and demonstrated a prototype is a sound strategy when the level of uncertainty around the MTA prototype is high.

This combination of pathways provides the Warfighters with capabilities quickly (MTA), while shaping the scope, requirements, and designs for a longer-term solution (MCA). Depending on the commonality of scope, requirements, and designs between the rapid prototype and longer-term solution, the program should be able to significantly tailor the early phases of the Major Capability Acquisition to transition to development sooner. 

Middle Tier of Acquisition (Rapid Prototyping) THEN Software Acquisition

The program initially demonstrated and fielded a prototype capability in an operational environment to provide users an initial capability (either as a Minimum Viable Product or Initial Operational Capability) via the Middle Tier of Acquisition Rapid Prototyping Pathway.

At some later point, the system requires additional iterative software development to scale the capability for Service-wide use. This may include adding additional features, strengthening cybersecurity, or improving interoperability with other systems. Having provided the operational user an initial capability that met or exceeded expectations, the sponsor wishes to continue enhancing and refining capabilities, including cyber-hardening, so that the capability can be deployed Service-wide. This program would then transition to the Software Acquisition Pathway for further development.

This blended strategy enables rapid delivery of an initial prototype, followed by iterative updates and upgrades in response to emerging needs and advances in technology.

Middle Tier of Acquisition (Rapid Fielding) THEN Major Capability Acquisition

A Component may initiate an effort using the Middle Tier of Acquisition pathway to rapidly test, produce and field a capability within 5 years. This might involve using an OT or a FAR-based contract.

As a follow-on activity, the program office may then initiate a new program using the Major Capability Acquisition pathway and entering at Milestone C to produce a higher quantity of the production articles delivered under the MTA Rapid Fielding pathway.

This is a good transition for programs that are exploiting commercial or Non-Developmental Item technology that can be quickly fielded with minimal testing. initiating the larger program with the MTA Rapid Fielding pathway enables faster delivery of an initial production set while standing up the more enduring program of record.  The MCA program should be able to significantly tailor the entry at Milestone C utilizing the lessons learned and documentation created for the preceeding MTA program.  However, transiton planning should include the development of any statutory and necessary regulatory documentation to ensure the transition is seamless.

Major Capability Acquisition WITH Software Acquisition

A major weapon system development can simultaneously use the Major Capability Acquisition pathway and the Software Acquisition pathway on the same program, such as when designing a new aircraft or other system with a significant amount of software.

The acquisition strategy should document the details of this approach, showing how the program office will use a tailored version of the Major Capability Acquisition Pathway to develop the system’s hardware and overall architecture and a tailored version of the Software Pathway to develop the software-based components. Worth noting: the software development must align to or integrate with the weapon system architecture, designs, and cyber standards. Open system architecture practices and principles apply here.

This program would likely use a modular contracting structure, in accordance with FAR 39.103. The program may decide to contract with/through the weapon system prime contractor and/or new contractor(s) with the prime as the integrator, based on current contract agreements, openness of architecture, and planned contract strategies.

Major Capability Acquisition THEN Software Acquisition

A major weapon system developed and produced capabilities via the Major Capability Acquisition pathway and achieved Initial Operational Capability (IOC) or possibly even Full Operational Capability (FOC). At some point subsequent to IOC or FOC, the system requires major software upgrades to its sensors, avionics, and/or mission support systems. This software development can be done independently, yet in coordination with other planned weapon system improvements, using the Software Acquisition pathway.

 

In this scenario, the program would follow the Software Pathway to guide the software development efforts. The sponsor and end user will generate a Capability Needs Statement (CNS) to capture the scope of the software requirements and that will be approved via the Components requirements approval processes. The software development must align to or integrate with the weapon system architecture, designs, and cyber standards. The program may decide to contract with/through the weapon system prime contractor and/or new contractor(s) with the prime as the integrator, based on current contract agreements, openness of architecture, and planned contract strategies.

Major Capability Acquisition PLUS Middle Tier of Acquisition

A program using the Major Capability Acquisition pathway to deliver a large, enduring capability may decide to add a Middle Tier of Acquisition activity to their acquisition strategy. One reason to take this blended approach is to address changes that emerge in the threat environment, the technology environment, or both while the program is underway but before the design is finalized.

When faced with such changes, the program could initiate a course of rapid prototyping using the Middle Tier of Acquisition pathway. The purpose of these prototypes is to explore new alternatives and to develop new ideas for addressing emerging needs, threats, or capabilities. These prototypes developed under an MTA framework would then be injected back in to the primary MCA program.

Programs with a long development timeline may be able to anticipate and predict the need for rapid prototyping.  They might therefore include an MTA effort in the original acquisition plan. Alternatively, a program may encounter unexpected changes and may thus choose to add some rapid prototyping work using the MTA pathway despite it not being part of their original plan.

This program would likely use a modular contracting structure, in accordance with FAR 39.103. The program may decide to contract with/through the weapon system prime contractor to develop the prototypes, and/or establish vehicles with new contractor(s) and have the prime serve as the integrator.