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Pentagon Takes Another Shot At Enforcing Joint Thinking 

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by Sandra I. Erwin 

For nearly two decades, the civilian leadership of the Defense Department and the joint chiefs of staff have tried various ways to impose adult supervision on the buying power of the military services.

The latest attempt to bring about more “joint” thinking into the weapons development process is called JCIDS, short for joint capabilities integration and development system.

Only a year in existence, JCIDS was designed to make military programs more relevant to the needs of joint commanders and to eliminate wasteful redundancies and duplications among programs. The bottom line for the services is that they must comply with the rules or risk losing their multibillion-dollar allowances.

Under JCIDS, the joint staff set up an elaborate evaluation system, composed of “functional review boards” led by one-star officers, which focus on key areas of war fighting, such as command-and-control, logistics and force protection, among others. At the helm of the entire process is the JROC, or joint requirements oversight council, made up of the vice-chiefs of each service.

Before any new program can proceed with development and production, it must clear the entire JCIDS review process, which takes 107 days, according to a senior defense official.

JCIDS aggressively embraces the notion that there are no sacred cows and that political momentum alone cannot justify a program. When a service comes forward with a proposal to start a new program, it must meticulously document how this program satisfies a series of broad “capability areas.” Reviewers generally are not receptive to aircraft programs, for example, that simply are meant to replace existing aircraft. The service must consider broader alternatives, such as whether the mission of a particular aircraft could be performed by an unmanned vehicle or long-range artillery.

The rationale for JCIDS is valid, experts assert, because the services must be able to fight in a joint force and ensure that their weapon systems are interoperable. It also provides a valuable method to de-conflict programs that two or more services may be pursuing independently and instead should be consolidated.

But some observers question whether JCIDS will have lasting impact, given its lack of spending authority. The funds that Congress appropriates remain, by law, under the purview of each service.

Much of the buzz that JCIDS has generated inside the building and within industry circles is a reminder of a similar effort launched in the mid-1990s to accomplish goals akin to JCIDS. At the time, the vice chairman of the joint chiefs, Adm. William A. Owens, created what he called the JWCA, or joint war fighting capabilities assessment, that was designed to more closely match the needs of joint commanders with the services’ procurement priorities.

The JWCA didn’t achieve the expected results, officials claim, because it was a “bottom-up” review process that began at the service level and ended at the JROC.

Conversely, the JCIDS was intentionally conceived as a “top-down” process.

The previous system wasn’t “as joint as we wanted it to be,” said Air Force Maj. Gen. (S) Mark E. Rogers, who chairs one of the JCIDS boards. “In reality, you need to think about the top end of the requirements, the military strategy, how we are going to operate as a force … and then send the requirements down to the science and technology, experimentation, resource allocation process,” he said in an interview. “In the past, when we looked at a weapon system, it was generated from a needs statement or a service requirement. You didn’t quite get the joint flavor.”

But the real reason why JWCA was only a passing fad—and why JCIDS may one day encounter a similar fate—is that ultimately the services have ownership of their programs and the responsibility to justify them before Congress. The Navy’s littoral combat ship program is a particularly relevant illustration of the challenge that the services face in getting major programs off the ground. While LCS critics on Capitol Hill charge that the Navy has done a poor job validating and articulating the need for the ship, the program passed the JCIDS review with flying colors and then some.

According to the senior defense official, the Navy did such a good job documenting the LCS requirements under JCIDS that Army and Air Force officers on the review panels suggested they all should model their documents after LCS.

One unresolved issue with which JCIDS still is grappling is how to work more closely with the defense industry. “We haven’t cracked that nut yet,” the defense official said. “We envision bringing industry into the process, but we haven’t figured out how to share information.” It is against the law to disclose information to selected contractors if that information is not widely available to all potential bidders. “If you share with one part of industry, you have to share with everybody,” the official said. “Any competitive advantage has significant implications.”

Industry insiders, meanwhile, are not yet sure what to make of JCIDS. Top contractors are still trying to learn how it operates and how they make decisions. Although industry players are aware that an unfavorable JCIDS review could derail a program, at least in the short term, contractors are not yet sure of the long-term implications. “At the end of the day, the services are our customers, that’s whom we focus on,” said one senior industry official. “We know that JCIDS is out there, what it’s supposed to do. But we don’t know the implications. They may well be well-intended efforts without major consequences.”

At the very least, he added, JCIDS will serve as a valuable forum to debate the relevance of major programs in a joint context, which certainly has merit. But some still wonder about a process that apparently ignores the long-standing relationship the services have with the movers and shakers on Capitol Hill.

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