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”
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.