Major Capability Acquisition (MCA)

The Major Capability Acquisition pathway is designed to acquire and modernize military-unique programs that provide enduring capability.

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.

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Figure 1: Major Capability Acquisition (MCA) Overview

Overarching Policies for MCA

DoD Directive 5000.01, The Defense Acquisition System, establishes the overarching management principles that guide the defense acquisition system. DoD Instruction 5000.02, Operation of The Adaptive Acquisition Framework, lays out procedures for managing acquisition programs with the objective of timely delivery of operationally effective, suitable, survivable, affordable, secure, and supportable solutions to the end user. This requires DoD to prioritize speed of delivery, security, continuous adaptation, and frequent modular upgrades to ensure a highly effective and lethal force by employing an adaptive acquisition framework, comprised of six pathways tailored to the unique characteristics and risk profile of the capability being acquired. MCA is one of the six acquisition pathways.

DoD Instruction 5000.85, Major Capability Acquisition, establishes the policy and procedures guiding the acquisition of MCA programs, including major defense acquisition programs (MDAPs); other programs categorized as acquisition category (ACAT) I; major systems, usually categorized as ACAT II; automated information systems (AIS) (not managed by other acquisition pathways); and other capabilities developed via the MCA pathway. Figure 1 introduces the major capability acquisition model.

Acquisitions using the MCA pathway typically follow a structured analyze, design, develop, integrate, test, evaluate, produce, and support approach. This process is designed to support MDAPs, 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.

Overview of DoDI 5000.85 MCA Procedures

Section 3 of DoDI 5000.85 lays out procedures guiding the acquisition of MCA programs, including general procedures for program planning, decision reviews, and the relationship between DoD processes supporting the Defense Acquisition System, and specialized procedures to include flexible implementation and acquisition process decisions and phases.

General Procedures

Program Planning

Acquisitions will rely on mature, proven technologies and early testing.  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.

Programs will be designed to facilitate capability enhancements by using open systems architectures and common, open, and consensus-based standards.

Milestone Decision Authorities (MDAs), program managers (PMs), and other relevant authorities will implement the processes described under Flexible Implementation below in order to facilitate a flexible and rapid acquisition process.


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.  Reviews will be issue and data focused to facilitate the MDA’s judgement as to whether the program is ready to proceed.  The MDA is the sole and final decision authority; staff members and organizations support the MDA.

The Defense Acquisition Board (DAB), chaired by the Defense Acquisition Executive (DAE) or designee, advises the DAE on critical acquisition decisions when the DAE or designee is the MDA; DoD Components will establish similar procedures for other MDAs.  Acquisition decision memorandums (ADMs) document decisions resulting from these reviews.

Overarching Integrated Product Teams and similar organizations within the Components assist the MDA in making sound investment decisions and ensuring programs are structured and resourced to succeed.  However, these organizations are not decision bodies and 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 must operate simultaneously in close coordination.  Validated requirements provide the basis for defining the products.  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.

Flexible Implementation

Tailoring may be applied to various aspects of the acquisition process, including program documentation, acquisition phases, the time and scope of decision reviews, supportability analysis, and decision levels consistent with all applicable statutory requirements.  MDAs will structure programs based on the product being acquired, considering complexity, risk, security, and urgency to satisfy the capability requirements.

PMs will “tailor-in” the regulatory information to describe their program at the MDD or program inception.  The MDA will review PM recommendations and resolve issues and coordinate with regulatory document approval authorities to facilitate implementation.  Statutory requirements will not be waived unless permitted by statute.

Technologies successfully demonstrated via Rapid Prototyping using the Middle Tier of Acquisition (MTA) or other prototyping authorities, may be transitioned to MCA programs as approved by the MDA.  The technologies may provide the technical foundation for a formal acquisition program, incrementally improve a program capability, or support the development and insertion of more efficient program components.  Similarly, products and technologies successfully demonstrated via Rapid Fielding procedures under MTA may transition to an MCA program.  DoD Instruction 5000.80, Operation of The Middle Tier of Acquisition (MTA), provides further direction for using the MTA pathway.

Additional information

Additional information and resources pertaining to MTA can be found on the MTA Pathway page.  When considering the use of multiple pathways, the USD(A&S) Accounting for Program Costs When Acquisition Framework Pathways Are Used Sequentially or in Combination Memo should be examined to understand how to approach program costs when different pathways are used in sequence or in combination.

Acquisition Process Decisions and Phases

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.  The MCA model depicted below lays out the major activity phases and decision points that apply to almost any acquisition are further discussed in other pages of the MCA pathway discussion.  Figure 2 details the major capability acquisition model.

Figure 2. Major Capability Acquisition Model

Information Requirements

The Adaptive Acquisition Framework Document Identification (AAFDID) tool identifies the complete set of statutory and regulatory information requirements applicable to the MCA pathway. Requirements vary based on ACAT level. While statutory requirements must be satisfied unless the statute allows for waivers, regulatory requirements may be tailored at the MDA’s discretion. PMs must comply with the online requirements consistent with DoDI 5000.85.