What to Know About DOD’s New Adaptive Acquisition Framework, Part 1

Published: July 29, 2020

Federal Market AnalysisAcquisition ReformDEFENSEPolicy and Legislation

The Department of Defense quietly implements new acquisition guidance.

Key Takeaways

  • New acquisition pathways make it easier for the Department of Defense to acquire and field commercial capabilities.
  • Acquisitions not tied to cumbersome development and production schedules can finally be conducted according to the urgency of need.
  • The Adaptive Acquisition Framework aligns DOD procurement practices with the objectives of the National Defense Strategy.

During the COVID-19 public health crisis this spring Defense acquisition authorities quietly began releasing new guidance for what Ellen Lord, the Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition and Sustainment, calls the Adaptive Acquisition Framework (AAF). The guidance documents that make up the AAF replace the Department of Defense’s old Instruction 5000 Series in an effort to remove bureaucratic hoops, streamline procurement processes, and align acquisitions with the increased lethality and efficiency goals of the National Defense Strategy. Six acquisition pathways make up the AAF, each of which is defined by the type of capability being developed and the urgency of the need for the capability. These pathways are

  1. Urgent Capability Acquisition
  2. Middle Tier Acquisition
  3. Major Capability Acquisition
  4. Software Acquisition
  5. Defense Business Systems
  6. Acquisition of Services

Today’s post describes the Urgent Capability Acquisition, Middle Tier Acquisition, and Major Capability Acquisition pathways and suggests why it is important for industry to understand these. Next week’s post will cover the remaining three pathways not discussed here.

Urgent Capability Acquisition (UCA)

Of all the AAF pathways, UCA has the shortest time frame, being intended for the rapid fielding of capabilities that fulfill urgent existing and/or emerging operational needs in less than 2 years. To that end, all parts of the UCA are streamlined due to operational urgency. If a program manager elects to use the UCA pathway, and receives approval from acquisition authorities to do so, the objective is to plan for the capability within a few weeks and then develop and produce that capability within months. Importantly, the regulations limit the cost of single solutions procured via UCA to no more than $525M in Research, Development, Test, and Evaluation dollars or $3.0B in Procurement dollars.

Middle-Tier Acquisition (MTA)

Program Managers may use MTA to rapidly develop field-able prototypes within an existing acquisition program, to demonstrate new capabilities, and/or to rapidly field systems with proven technologies that require minimal additional development. MTA includes rapid prototyping and fielding activities, the objective of which is to field prototypes that can be demonstrated in operational environments within 5 years. Unlike UCA, there is no dollar ceiling to MTA efforts.

Major Capability Acquisition (MCA)

The purpose of MCA is to “acquire and modernize military unique programs that provide enduring capability” to the warfighter. Of all the AAF pathways it is the one that most closely resembles Defense acquisitions as they currently exist. The size of MCA procurements can be tailored according to complexity, risk, urgency, and other factors with one important caveat, this being that the acquisition is not intended for software. The procurement of software capabilities has been separated into its own pathway.

Contractor Implications

Communication. The separation of Defense procurements into distinct acquisition pathways make it more important than ever for industry bidders to remain in touch with contracting and program personnel. The availability of different pathways means that program managers will need to define their requirements based on the type of pathway that is most applicable. Industry must therefore pay attention to public announcements to ensure an understanding of the pathway selected. In some cases prior to formal procurement, it will be important to know what program offices have in mind when they make it known that a certain type of capability is desired. Foreknowledge can help contractors respond more rapidly to a need once it is advertised.

COTS Solutions. Another key aspect of the AAF is DODs desire to leverage commercial-off-the-shelf solutions to the farthest extent possible. Not only does using these types of solutions lower costs for the DOD, it also enables Defense customers to acquire new and emerging technology more rapidly since in the case of UCA and MTA production and fielding of the capability is not tied to a decade-long budgetary and planning schedule. The AAF provides Defense customers with the means by which to acquire new capabilities quickly, meaning it is on industry partners to offer the desired solutions at the speed of need.