early Army Air Corps, General of the Air Force Henry H. (“Hap”) Arnold told of a reality not unlike that of today:

Planes became obsolescent as they were being built. It sometimes took five years to evolve a new combat airplane, and meanwhile a vacuum could not be afforded…. I also had trouble convincing people of the time it took to get the “bugs” out of all the airplanes. Between the time they were designed and the time they could be flown away from the factory stretched several years. For example … the B-17 was designed in 1934, but it was 1936 before the first test article was delivered. The first production article was not received by the Air Corps until 1939. You can’t build an Air Force overnight.6

Yet the 5 years from design to operation that General Arnold described have now stretched in some cases to 20 years and more, and cost has increased similarly. Much of the delay and cost growth afflicting modern Air Force programs is rooted in the same area that plagued General Arnold: the incorporation of advanced technology into major systems acquisition.


In response to a request from the Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Air Force for Science, Technology, and Engineering, the National Research Council (NRC) formed the Committee on Evaluation of U.S. Air Force Preacquisition Technology Development.7 The statement of task for this study is as follows:

  • Examine appropriate current or historical DoD [Department of Defense] policies and processes, including the PPBES [Planning, Programming, Budgeting, and Execution System], DoD Instruction 5000.02, the Air Force Acquisition Improvement Plan, JCIDS [Joint Capabilities Integration and Development System], and DoD and Air Force competitive prototyping policies to comprehend their impact on the execution of pre-program of record technology development efforts.

  • Propose any changes to the Air Force workforce, organization, policies, processes and resources, if any, to better perform preacquisition technology development. Specific issues to consider include:

    • Resourcing alternatives for Pre-Milestone B activities

    • The role of technology demonstrations


H.H. Arnold. 1949. Global Mission. New York, N.Y.: Harper, pp. 178-179, 193.


For purposes of this study, preacquisition technology development involves: (1) determining what advanced technology is needed, by when, and for what purpose; (2) assessing and balancing the feasibility, benefits, and costs of developing, inserting, and deploying the technology; (3) deciding the best path to reduce the risk in achieving the desired results within estimated cost and schedule; and (4) responsibly executing technology maturation activities.

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