Why Some Weapon Systems Encounter Production Problems While Others Do Not:

Six Case Studies

NSIAD-85-34: Published: May 24, 1985. Publicly Released: May 24, 1985.

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GAO identified the causes of early production problems six weapons systems experienced and how such problems might be avoided in future acquisitions. The programs reviewed were the: (1) Copperhead projectile; (2) Black Hawk Helicopter; (3) High Speed Anti-Radiation Missile (HARM); (4) Tomahawk cruise missile; (5) F-16 fighter; and (6) Air-Launched Cruise Missile (ALCM).

The Department of Defense's (DOD) policy regarding production management states that: (1) production engineering and production planning should be done throughout full-scale development; (2) voids in production technologies should be identified and addressed; and (3) contractors should demonstrate the capability to produce within cost and schedule. GAO found that production preparations for the Copperhead, Black Hawk, Tomahawk, and HARM programs were sporadic and underfunded which resulted in increased costs, delayed deliveries, and slower attainment of higher, more efficient production rates. GAO noted several conditions under which the development phase strongly influenced production, including whether: (1) pressures to achieve technical performance requirements dominated the development phase; (2) sufficient program management attention and staff resources were devoted to production concerns; and (3) funding and quantity stability permitted early consideration of production matters during the development phases. In the six weapons reviewed, the degree to which technical performance concerns could be balanced with production concerns was directly affected by the: (1) technical requirements of the weapons; (2) structure of competition between contractors during development; and (3) weight given to production concerns in subsequent program decisions. GAO found that production readiness reviews can be used as tools for managing production preparations and facilitating reduced production risks.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: DOD has published a detailed manual, 4245.7-M, to accompany DOD Directive 4245.7 on Transition to Production. The manual emphasizes a balanced technical approach to weapons development, and GAO has seen evidence of such balance in some new programs like the LHX Helicopter.

    Recommendation: When establishing those elements of a new weapons system development program which directly affect the balance between technical concerns and production concerns, such as technical performance requirements and the terms of competition, the Secretary of Defense should ensure that provisions are also made to induce an adequate level of production preparations to be conducted early and continuously throughout the weapon's development.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: GAO has seen a renewed emphasis on production criteria employed at decision points and has been present at DOD courses of instruction which are emphasizing this to new program managers.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Defense should ensure that, when contemplating decisions which have known production risks in weapon programs such as those regarding requirements changes and funding reductions, decisionmakers explicitly assess those risks before making decisions.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

  3. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: DOD has begun to apply production readiness more seriously and consistently. Recently, such a review on a critical Army Aquila subsystem revealed major production concerns over 1 year before the scheduled production decision.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Defense should employ production readiness reviews as a tool for managing production preparations to progressively reduce production risks, beginning early and repeating them at intervals during full-scale development.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense


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