Pentagon Must Tread Carefully On ‘Joint’ Weapon Acquisitions

Originally published in National Defense Magazine.

By Alex Haber & Jeff Jeffress

With downward budgetary pressures on U.S. defense spending, it will be worth watching how the Pentagon moves forward with joint-service acquisitions. The cost savings, interoperability advantages and efficiency gains that joint programs can offer will only grow more enticing.

The multi-service approach, though a potential game-changer, should be employed cautiously and only after thoroughly analyzing several key parameters.

Even if two or more services are both hungry for the same capability or are driven by closely related missions, different design needs cause potential savings to fade quickly. Michael O’Hanlon, military analyst at the Brookings Institution, claims a decision-maker’s rule of thumb for a program to be joint should be roughly 90 percent commonality, if not more. In the advanced medium-range air-to-air missile, the Navy and Air Force brought highly aligned requirements to Raytheon, and, consequently, development and deployment was relatively smooth.

Due in part to less commonality, the F-35 joint strike fighter became the poster child for troubled joint programs. As JSF critics have noted, coordinating different weights, software systems and other service-unique requirements can be a significant lift, eroding potential savings and resulting in compromised final designs.

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Alex Haber is a business analyst in the national security practice at Censeo Consulting Group. Jeff Jeffress is a managing director and head of the national security practice at Censeo Consulting Group.


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