Software Acquisition

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Define Capability Needs

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 5000.87 Section 1.2.a, g


Programs executing the software acquisition pathway are not subject to the Joint Capabilities Integration and Development System (JCIDS), and will be handled as specifically provided for by the Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, in consultation with Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition and Sustainment (USD(A&S)) and each service acquisition executive. Software development will be done in active collaboration with end users, representing key user groups, to ensure software deliveries address their priority needs, maximize mission impact, and undergo regular assessment of software performance and risk.


Reference Source: DODI 5000.87 Section 3.2


Programs using the software acquisition pathway are not subject to JCIDS, except pursuant to a new process as discussed in Paragraph 2.8.a., but must be effective in capturing users’ needs, priorities, and environment.


Reference Source: USD(A&S) Guidance

Software Acquisition Pathway overarching process

Software Acquisition Pathway – Defining Needs and Engaging Users

SWP programs that Joint Staff views as having “Joint Equities” are required to use a Software Initial Capabilities Document (SW-ICD) to capture high level needs. Those that don’t have Joint Equities can use the Capability Needs Statement (CNS) via their Service/Agency requirements process. It is recommended SWP programs work with their Service/Agency requirements headquarters organizations to get an early “read” from Joint Staff on the Joint equities determination before proceeding with the SW-ICD or CNS.

The Joint Staff J8 gatekeeper is the determining official for Joint equities, with the general guidelines as follows:

  • Combatant Command generated requirements
  • Programs related to JADC2 per JROCM 074-20
  • Programs related to Nuclear Command Control and Communications (NC3)
  • Any explicit joint or joint-service requirements

Difference between CNS and SW-ICD

Reference Source: USD(A&S) Guidance

Capability Needs Statement (CNS) Software Initial Capabilities Document (SW-ICD)


Software development Software development that Joint Staff determines has Joint equities


Service requirements board or other Service process Service approval with expedited Joint Staff validation (≤ 40 days);
JCB biennial reviews

Key Sections

Ops context/threat summary; capabilities needed; performance attributes; interoperability; requirements management Ops context; threat summary; capability requirements and gaps/overlaps; interoperability; final recommendations


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Page Count

5-10 pages

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