Urgent Capability Acquisition

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Best Practices

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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:  DAU Powerful Example

At a high level, the steps are the following:


  • The Urgent Warfighter Need is recognized and validated by a designated authority,
  • A sponsor is identified for the resolution of the issue,
  • A plan is developed to quickly address the capability gap,
  • Resources are provided to accomplish the plan and rapidly deploy the capability.



(Video segments applicable to each topic are included in the toggles below)

Lessons Learned and Best Practices

Requirements Development

Reference source:  DAU Powerful Example

Emerging threats require a rapid response to save lives.

Addressing Urgent Operational Needs is the Department of Defense’s highest priority.

Organizations should have a network of trained urgent need technical experts that understand rapid authorities before an urgent need arrives.

Once an urgent requirement is recognized and validated by a competent authority, a sponsor is identified for resolving the issue, a plan is developed to counter the threat, then resources are provided to accomplish the plan and quickly deploy the capability.

Reference source:  DAU Powerful Example

“What is the capability gap? What is it that the operating forces can’t do and need to be able to do? And only once there’s a good understanding of that capability gap can you get to work on figuring out what the solution is.”

“Requirements do change a lot, and they’re mostly driven by the adversary. The adversary has a large vote in what that requirement looks like. So, as they adapt technology and apply it to their nefarious purposes, then we have to change the requirement in order to meet those needs from the combatant commander.”

“The environment that we have created for this urgent operational need is one that’s all about partnership and speed. And at the end of the day, what we always try to stick to is schedule. Schedule is key.”

“In order for an urgent operational need to be successful, you have to power down authority and responsibility to the lowest levels, simply because you don’t have the time to go off and check on every single thing.”

“That’s a new feeling for some people within the acquisition community because they are used to top cover, vetting every decision that gets made. You have to trust your people.”

“Whoever is executing that JUON, they just need to be agile and ready for any changes to occur.”

“Getting an 80% solution to the warfighter in seven or eight weeks is much more valuable than getting a 95% solution in two years.”

“It’s critical that the enterprise, that all the people understand the priority of an urgent need that’s described in DoD Directive and DoD Instruction. Understanding the priority that the Defense Department places on an urgent need allows us to energize everybody at every part of the process and make sure that everybody understands, ‘This is your number one priority, this is the first thing you’re going to work on today, and you’re going to work on it until we’ve solved today’s problem.”

Phase 1 – Requirements Development

Sponsor Assignment and Team Building

Reference source:  DAU Powerful Example

When sponsorship of an urgent warfighter need is assigned, a Program Manager must assemble a team both within the organization and by tapping into external, cross-functional resources.

Robust coordination with and communication between services, agencies, vendors, allies and other stakeholders is crucial.

Micromanagement is NOT possible in an agile environment.

Maintaining visibility of all efforts before senior leadership is crucial to ensuring necessary resources are provided.

Reference source:  DAU Powerful Example

“The Department of Defense, the U.S. Government, and our Allies have many centers of technical expertise and acquisition excellence that can apply considerable capability to assist us in quickly constructing a solution to rapidly emerging enemy threats.”

“The ‘team of teams’ and ‘network of networks’ we form connects the Department in a ‘Whole of Government’ approach and fully leverages the contributions that industry, academia, and our allies can make to finding viable solutions. Research labs have great capability to problem solve but you need a Program Manager that can take their ideas through the solution’s life cycle from production to fielding and final disposition – a good PM can integrate the entire effort.” 

“A solution sponsor is generally assigned by the joint rapid acquisition cell or the JRAC. Then they determine which service or department has the best capabilities and is able to field that capability rapidly to the war fighter.”

“You don’t have time to go and screen through resumes and hand-select a team. You have to look for organizations that you can leverage in order to go after this rapid requirement. You’re looking for organizations that can take the ball on day one or day two and run with it.”

“You need the requirements people, the resourcing people, acquisition people, and you need the representatives from the operations people. Building your network ahead of time allows you to very rapidly introduce a new problem, begin generating solutions to that problem, make decisions about what solution you’re going to pick, and then execute that solution as quickly as possible.”

“The Program Manager is usually put into a very tight box of requirements, schedule, and budget. We try to relieve them of that box by saying schedule is the most important thing.”

“We have a small, lean organization. At the end of the day, it’s about the War Fighter and I have to trust my team. I don’t have time to micromanage. It’s all about empowering your folks to go out there and execute on a daily basis in order to get the job done.”

“If you want to go fast for anything, being small is very important, having a lean, small team. When you have a lean organization, the decision-making process is quicker.”

“The first response was, we immediately got hold of the requirements folks, to make sure we understood exactly what the urgent need was. When an urgent need comes in the requirements are at a very high level.”

“The hardest part frankly from the get-go was defining the requirement and figuring out, ‘What do we even need to solve here? What is the problem?'”

“When we identified those top-level requirements, we broke up into teams to look at each one of them. We had a systems engineer leading the overall effort, and then we had a team looking at detect, we had a team looking at identify, a team looking at track, and a team looking at defeat.”

“The program manager has to weigh a lot of different things, but one of the most important is the coordination and synchronization of the team and how to maintain the buy-in from the team and keep them moving along the path to success.”

“We put together a week-by-week schedule, to meet that monthly schedule, and that week-by-week schedule turned into a daily schedule.”

“There’s a certain creative nature that’s required with program managers for urgent responses in order to shorten that delivery time.”

“It was valuable to be able to talk to a cross component, to my Army counterpart, to the Navy counterpart, as well as government agency counterparts. We were able to have open lines of communication where we could trade stories, lessons learned, data information, test results, our communications with vendors and industry to really…to leverage that information to better our own programs.”

“That sharing’s been very beneficial, we’ve heavily leveraged the Army and the Navy and the Marine Corps as well, which has been immensely helpful. When we share the same components, to get the best value out of those components as well.”

“You have to inform the leadership that there are going to be changes over time and that you have to have some level of flexibility.”

“Our senior leadership here actually has a database that allows us to update daily. We brief MAJCOM and Pentagon officials on a monthly basis. That allows us to give them the latest and greatest of what’s going on in this operational need.”

Phase 2 – Sponsor Assignment and Team Building

Rapid Funding and Solution Acquisition

Reference source:  DAU Powerful Example

Everyone needs to be knowledgeable on flexible funding and contracting strategies such as RAA, ATR, BTR, OTAs, and UCAs.

Money to proceed must be moved from other, existing sources; there is no pot of money waiting to be spent on rapid acquisitions.

All acquisitions of urgent need solutions, despite their urgency must be justified and documented.

Strategic messaging is important and is crucial to ensure individuals in different areas of responsibility are able to clearly and concisely communicate their needs and requirements to each other.

Reference source:  DAU Powerful Example

“Quickly identifying funding for urgent need solutions greatly enhances a rapid response. Congress provides the Department with funding for specific purposes. When an Urgent Warfighter Need, such as the enemy’s use of UAS arises, funds will be identified and transferred from where they were originally slated to where they are now needed for the higher priority urgent requirement. These funds can be moved using Above or Below Threshold Reprogrammings or Rapid Acquisition Authority.”

“Everything is happening at once. So, you’re doing your planning, your development, procurement, contracting; all the pieces are happening at once.”

“It’s key to remember that there’s no pot of money available to support urgent needs.”

“Prior to requesting any funds, we have to define the requirement and the solution. And in doing so, we develop cost estimates, we determine what programs may already have a solution or a partial solution that we can implement.”

“Inside of urgent acquisitions, it’s critically important to get the funding early and to prime the pump. Getting that funding early allows the Program Manager to start taking deliberate actions. “

“The spend plan is a major component of responding to an urgent acquisition. There needs to be confidence that you not only have identified a solution but you also are aware of the cost of the solution.”

“There can be an impact to other programs. All that has to be weighed in deciding who is the bill payer and what the impact will be, not just in the current fiscal year, but long term. ” 

“You’re almost always going to take away funds from something else. The resourcing community is going to help define what that offset is, so that senior leaders can make a decision, understanding the trade-offs that are involved with producing a specific interim solution.”

“Our initial effort is to basically see if we can find the funds within the services or the defense agencies.”

“We often find that different funds are available across different appropriations. Sometimes you’ve got procurement funds that are available. Sometimes it’s operations and maintenance. Sometimes it’s R&D funds. The availability of those funds will help you select both with your requirement, what you actually want to go buy, and the acquisition strategy, understanding that fast is the most important factor in our deliberations.”

“We have Below Threshold Reprogramming, Above Threshold Reprogramming, and then you have something call Rapid Acquisition Authority. Initially we were able to add some money, through a Below Threshold Reprogramming action. That got us moving with a few million dollars.”

“Once a component has been identified as being the executive agent for the effort, we will have to administratively move the funds from one account to another account. There could be various ways that we will do this. If it’s Below Threshold, we can just do the action by ourselves, just move the funds over. However, if it’s beyond a certain level, we would have to seek permission from the Office of Management and Budget and the Congress.”

“One of the great things about using Rapid Acquisition Authority is that you can use any color of money. This helps immensely because a lot of times, there’s a shortage of a certain type of funds. What you do in Rapid Acquisition Authority is you move money from pockets of funds that the Congress has already approved and you’re moving it to some other initiative.”

“We communicated with JRAC and we went over to Congress and briefed our approach for Counter-small UAS to ensure that they agreed with our approach and they agreed with moving the money from sources that they had pre-approved.”

“Contracting is very important, particularly in this program where there’s an urgent timeline. Knowing how hard it is to have a contract mechanism in place, we canvassed the entire industry and pursued every type of contract action in order to get a contract in place and start producing, deploying and sustaining equipment in the field.”

“Our initial contracting strategy was to leverage contracts we already had in place. However, those did not move rapidly enough so we ended up working with UCAs or Undefinitized Contract Actions. Those are allowed to be processed quicker.”

“Using other people’s contracts and using MIPRs and partnering with the Navy, and the Marine Corps, and the Army, and the Air Force Research Labs has been immensely helpful to us.”

Phase 3 – Rapid Funding and Solution Acquisition

Solution Development

Reference source:  DAU Powerful Example

Look for solutions through all available technologies that Industry, Academia, or our allies can offer, either partially or fully.

Get out of the office and onto the range. Experiment, test, analyze, repeat.

It’s okay to fail, but it’s important to fail quickly, address the problems and continue moving forward.

Constant communication with all stakeholders is crucial.

Stay flexible and remain adaptive as requirements and enemy tactics will evolve.

Reference source:  DAU Powerful Example

“Risk must shift from the warfighter to the acquisition system. A 70% solution now is better than a 100% solution five years from now. During periods of conflict, the schedule for delivering capability quickly is more important than its cost or perfect performance.”

“We’re looking for an interim solution. Something that’s good enough to make it to the battlefield right away. And it’s not necessarily going to be perfect. It’s not always going to have the perfect performance you desire and there may be limitations to that capability.”

“We sought out commercial, off-the-shelf systems to put some capability into the field — an interim solution. And then we developed a system of systems with different increments. We conducted a best-of-breed for each of the components within that system of systems. And then we improved those systems incrementally to deliver something to the field with a better capability.”

“You have to evolve with the threat. That’s why we say it’s a best of breed solution. For the detect mechanism, one day it may be Radar X but tomorrow it may be Radar Y. These pieces and parts have to be interchangeable in order to evolve with that threat. If they’re not, you’re beholden to the system that you have and you’ll never be able to keep pace with that threat. “

“We have to be taking risks or we’re never going to get to fielding any capability. We don’t have five to ten years to field a system. We have months. Not everything that you choose is going to be a home run. We have to be willing to take the risk and understand that we’re going to fail, but we’re going to learn from it.”

“Sit down with your people and tell them, “It’s okay to fail.” You’ve got to embrace that yourself. That was one of the things that I had to do very early on, is realize that I was going to fail more times in a shorter amount of time than I’d ever done in my career.”

“We highly leveraged our partners from the United States Army in that they were going after the same threat set that we were. So that collaborative effort, specifically with the Army paid tremendous dividends for the Marine Corps. And we were able to leverage their research and development efforts. We didn’t have to duplicate those, so it saved time, money, and resources.”

“We had an existing program that we owned the rights for the data and the design. So, we knew that we could rapidly upgrade the system.”

“We did a lot of testing. We went to the field a lot. We failed a lot early on. We learned a lot and then we went back to the field again. We measured our results and then we went back to the lab in a continuous cycle until we got to the point where we had a solution that was reliable, dependable, and that we would feel comfortable giving to the warfighter to protect them.”

“Warfighter feedback was one of those most important aspects as we were going through the development process. As we took in that feedback from the warfighter we would quickly then assess what they were looking for and what type of capability they were getting at. There were things that we would have never thought of that based upon their feedback made small, incremental changes to the system, but small changes that they thought were incredibly important.”

“We were constantly in discussions with the warfighter to understand, “What is it that you want? How do you want to know when there’s a drone? How do you activate the system?” Where to deploy the system. We would have weekly VTCs, video teleconferences, with the warfighters getting feedback. We would also have out government people that would train the users on how to operate the system, so we’d constantly communicate with our deployed Field Service Representatives on how to make the system better.”

“The ‘scrum’ came to be as a 15-minute meeting, three times a week. And the purpose was just to get everyone in the same room to talk about what was going on. We use it as an opportunity for each of the Program Managers to speak up and say, ‘Hey, I need X, Y, or Z.’ And that could be from an engineer, it could be from a logistician, it could be from a training representative, contracting, FM, whomever. We’re far more effective when we work together, in small teams, face-to-face, than we are trying to bounce ideas off of one another via email.”

Phase 4 – Solution Development

Expedited Fielding, Sustainment and Final Disposition

Reference source:  DAU Powerful Example

Knowledgeable Field Service Reps are essential to providing in-theater repairs, training and operational feedback on immature systems.

Warfighter feedback is crucial to continuing product development.

Fielded solutions must be compatible with other friendly systems.

Host nation rules and laws must be followed.

Reference source:  DAU Powerful Example

“When you send technology to the field, you must ensure that the Warfighter understands and accepts the purpose, capabilities and limitations of the solution, has sufficient training or Contractor Field Service Representative Support to operate the capability, and has adequate logistical support to repair and maintain the system.”

“Obviously the most important thing is getting that capability to the war fighters. War fighters are very ingenious people. And when you get capabilities to soldiers, they’ll figure out how to work it, break it, or make use of it.”

“The first person that that soldier interacts with is a field service rep, and their ability to convey how this equipment works and what their comfort level in fixing it, and teaching them all the specializations that they’ll need to operate that equipment is absolutely vital as you start fielding equipment to the soldiers down range.”

“Communications was key both for developing and fielding capability not only here but abroad. So, you had that strategic messaging to the leadership but you also had that tactical messaging, the messaging to the folks that were actually handling the stuff. Here’s what we’re delivering, here’s the initial capability you’re getting. It doesn’t do everything you wanted but it does something. It gives you something more than what you had before. And don’t worry, more is coming. We’ll field, we’ll test, we’ll train, and we’ll just keep evolving it and make it the best product we can and give the solution that capability to the end user as soon as we can.”

“For an urgent operational need, an operational assessment in the field is critically important and needs to be performed soon after the system has become operational. The importance of the operational assessment is to get feedback to the developer to make sure that the system is working appropriately in the environment that it’s deployed in.”

“The environment is always different when you get downrange and there are things you’re not going to anticipate.”

“Our job definitely isn’t done once they’re fielded. Once we get the system into theater, our job does not stop there. We’ve got to support these systems. We track repairs and failures and look for trends and we do analysis on these systems. We train the sailors how to use these systems and where to get help if something goes wrong and they need a part.”

“It does take some diligence in understanding what’s out there in the field and we work to make sure that we can seamlessly integrate into that warfighting picture, not impact any other systems that are in the battlefield, yet provide that capability that they requested.”

“It’s very important that you work with the combatant commander to get the host nation’s approval. When placing electronic countermeasures into theater, you don’t want it to interfere with any of the host nation’s equipment. And they have their own laws that you have to abide by.”

“The disposition of urgent needs happens in a deliberate fashion. The COCOM gives his recommendation as to whether the urgent need was successful.”

“If we decide this is a capability that we want to keep in the department, but is really necessary for the current warfight, you the PM will be responsible for sustaining this gear for perhaps years. If we decide we don’t need it for the current fight and we’re done with it, then you as the PM need to figure out how we’re going to dispose of the item. So, you’ve got to think of this as a mini-acquisition program, everything from the beginning of taking that requirement and breaking it down and how quickly can we provide a plan, get it executed. How do you develop it? How do you field it? How do you sustain it? And then what do you do to disposition the item at the end? So as a program manager, this may be the only time in your career, you see all those cycles going on in the same time in one program.”

Phase 5 – Expedited Fielding of Solutions, Sustainment, and Final Disposition