Defense Acquisitions:

Factors Affecting Outcomes of Advanced Concept Technology Demonstrations

GAO-03-52: Published: Dec 2, 2002. Publicly Released: Dec 2, 2002.

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The Advanced Concept Technology Demonstration (ACTD) program was started by the Department of Defense (DOD) as a way to get new technologies that meet critical military needs into the hands of users faster and less cost. GAO was asked to examine DOD's process for structuring and executing ACTDs.

Since the ACTD program was started in 1994, a wide range of products have been tested by technology experts and military operators in realistic settings--from unmanned aerial vehicles, to friend-or-foe detection systems, to biological agent detection systems, to advanced simulation technology designed to enhance joint training. Many of these have successfully delivered new technologies to users. In fact, 21 of 24 projects we examined that were found to have military utility delivered at least some technologies to users that meet military needs. Though the majority of the projects we examined transitioned technologies to users, there are factors that hamper the ACTD process. For example, (1)Technology has been too immature to be tested in a realistic setting, leading to cancellation of the demonstration; (2) Military services and defense agencies have been reluctant to fund acquisition of ACTD-proven technologies, especially those focusing on joint requirements, because of competing priorities; and (3) ACTDs' military utility may not have been assessed consistently. Some of the barriers we identified can be addressed through efforts DOD now has underway, including an evaluation of how the ACTD process can be improved; adoption of criteria to be used to ensure technology is sufficiently mature; and placing of more attention on the end phases of the ACTD process. Other barriers, however, will be much more difficult to address in view of cultural resistance to joint initiatives and the requirements of DOD's planning and funding process.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The Deputy Under Secretary of Defense for Advanced Systems and Concepts has agreed to work with the participants of each ACTD to (1) define, prior to program initiation, a clear set of measurement standards for performance effectiveness, and (2) identify the appropriate reporting formats, including scope and level of details for these programs.

    Recommendation: To ensure that transition decisions are based on sufficient knowledge, the Secretary of Defense should develop and require the use of specific criteria for assessing the military utility of each of the technologies and concepts that are to be demonstrated within each ACTD. The criteria should at a minimum identify measurement standards for performance effectiveness and address how results should be reported in terms of scope, format, and desired level of detail.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The Deputy Under Secretary of Defense for Advanced Systems and Concepts will continue to coordinate with Services and defense agencies to develop funding strategies to support follow-on transition and support of ACTD products which have demonstrated military utility. As an initial effort, the Deputy Under Secretary has adjusted the OSD funding contribution for execution of an ACTD to focus on the first 2 years of the program.

    Recommendation: To ensure funding of the transition and its aftermath, the Secretary of Defense should explore the option of requiring the services or defense agencies to develop a category within their budgets specifically for ACTD transition activities, including procurement and follow-on support.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

  3. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The Deputy Under Secretary of Defense for Advanced Systems and Concepts agreed to enhance coordination with the Joint Staff in order to provide more comprehensive feedback on the performance of specific ACTDs and the merits of the ACTD components to enhance specific joint warfighting issues and requirements. Further, in February 2005, DOD announced the creation of a new effort called the Joint Capability Technology Demonstration (JCTD) program to oversee ACTD's with joint application. According to DOD officials, the impetus for the new JCTD program was driven by GAO's recommendation that outlined the factors that hamper the ACTD process for programs with joint application, and was reinforced by the results of the January 2004 Joint Capabilities Study that concluded that streamlined processes were needed to better integrate defense capabilities in support of joint objectives and that DOD needed to improve its ability to plan resources, and field joint capabilities and to ensure that the best solutions are brought forward and implemented.

    Recommendation: To ensure that transition decisions reflect DOD's priorities, the Secretary of Defense should require that the lead service or defense agency obtain the concurrence of the Secretary's designated representative on any decision not to transition an ACTD that is based on joint requirements and determined to be militarily useful.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense


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