Background Information on the Vanguard Process and Applied Technology Councils
There is little, if anything, in the current acquisition environment relating to technology development that has not arisen—and subsequently been addressed—many times before. But organizational memory can be a fleeting thing, and the lessons learned today may be forgotten tomorrow. Shifting requirements, inadequate processes, chronic funding issues, and excessive oversight have existed as long as there has been a United States Air Force (USAF)—and even before. In his 1949 autobiography, General of the Air Force H.H. “Hap” Arnold complained:
The tough part of aircraft development and securing an air program is to make Congress, the War Department, and the public realize that it is impossible to get a program that means anything unless it covers a period of not less than five years. Any program covering a shorter period is of little value. Normally it takes five years from the time the designer has an idea until the plane is delivered to the combatants. The funds must cover the entire period or there is no continuity of development or procurement. For years, the Army—and the Army Air Forces while a part of it—was hamstrung in its procurement programs by governmental shortsightedness.1
Around the time that General Arnold was writing those words, the newly established Air Force was creating the Ridenour Committee to study the USAF’s research and development activities. The Ridenour Committee recommended the creation of a new organization, separate from the Air Materiel Command, to control all of the USAF’s research and development. By the mid-1950s, there was recognition that
formal channels were needed to connect Combatant Commands, the science and technology (S&T) community, and the Product Centers. These ideas resulted in the establishment in 1960 of an organization called the Advanced System Program Office, developing mission requirement analysis and operational assessment tools and using them to focus technology development.2
THE DEVELOPMENT OF VANGUARD
The first Development Planning (DP) offices were begun in the 1960s, and their processes and policies were defined over the following years. In 1978, the Commander of Air Force Systems Command, General Alton D. Slay, created Vanguard, a more comprehensive and complex DP methodology. With Vanguard, General Slay split the management of technology into two pieces. The first, what he called “Planning for Development,” was acquisition-based: It codified user requirements and determined the systems, costs, schedules, and plans necessary to meet those requirements.
The second piece was called “Development Planning,” and it was technology-based, coordinating all research and development in the Air Force, focusing on Exploratory Development (6.2) and Advanced Development (6.3). Vanguard used what must have been for the time very advanced computer tools to increase visibility into technology efforts across all fronts, throughout industry and across the armed services. A channel was established within the Air Force Systems Command (AFSC), from the Deputy Chief of Staff for Development Plans down to each individual program office and laboratory, through which Vanguard data were accumulated, sorted, analyzed, and redistributed. Participation was not optional.
Essential to Vanguard’s success was a tool called “Hooks and Strings,” which formed the connective tissue between the Combatant Commands, the S&T world, and the acquisition centers. In connecting the three worlds, “Hooks and Strings” provided the answers to the critical questions that are as relevant today as they were 30 years ago. See Box D-1.
Project Vanguard included three core planning areas: (1) mission plans, (2) major force elements, and (3) functional plans. Mission-level plans addressed specific tasks that must be completed, whereas major force elements included larger and more general categories of systems that would garner interest across the board, and functional plans addressed those activities that spanned several mission areas. All of these plans included a wealth of information, such as applicable citations from the USAFs out-year development plan, relevant regulations, pertinent organizational dependencies, and proposed milestones and requirements.
The Objectives of Vanguard
SOURCE: Derived from an undated talking paper by Gen Alton D. Slay (USAF, Ret.) entitled “Vanguard.”
Key parts of Vanguard were frequent, regular, face-to-face meetings at the four-star level, to facilitate coordination among all parties. In the words of General Slay:
I hosted separate meetings each quarter at HQ AFSC with the operational commanders (e.g., SAC, MAC, TAC) and selected members of their staffs. Vanguard briefings described the Vanguard “hooks and strings” trace to all projects/ programs underway or planned in response to their requirements. Project funding levels and schedules were discussed in detail and comments solicited thereon.3
The results of Vanguard were mixed, according to its creator. Asked about his level of satisfaction with the Vanguard implementation as of his retirement in 1981, General Slay said:
On the whole, I would rate my degree of satisfaction with its implementation as something just north of lukewarm. Maybe if I had been able to stick with it another year….4
The loss of momentum described by General Slay is an important feature of this story. From Hap Arnold to General Slay to today’s USAF leadership, a common thread emerges again and again: A leader sees the need for a better system to integrate the warfighter-S&T-acquisition worlds and creates a new management system to fill that need; the new system is developed and implemented, but soon the sponsoring leader moves on; a new commander arrives, together with that person’s own views and priorities, and the departed leader’s creation is treated with something like benign neglect; after a while, the old system is quietly dropped, and its lessons are soon forgotten.
Such was the case with Vanguard. Its demise is neither well documented nor well remembered, but it certainly did not survive the end of Air Force Systems Command in 1992, when AFSC essentially was subsumed within the old Air Force Logistics Command, and the new Air Force Materiel Command emerged.
APPLIED TECHNOLOGY COUNCILS
When it became clear that the need for coordination between the worlds of warfighter, S&T, and acquisition commands still existed, a new concept evolved at the Product Center level. Applied Technology Councils (ATCs) were instituted by Product Center and laboratory commanders to carry on the old Vanguard mission of integrating warfighter requirements with acquisition priorities and laboratory efforts. As with the Vanguard meetings, ATCs were held quarterly, attended by senior-level warfighters, top laboratory management, and high-level acquisition leaders. Warfighters made clear their combat requirements, S&T leaders explained what was feasible technologically, and the acquisition community set forth programmatic plans for matching requirements with new systems or subsystems. Priorities were established, funding was committed, and plans were made to transition technologies from the S&T world, over the “Valley of Death” to operational success—all as in the days of General Slay’s Vanguard.
As with Vanguard, however, the ATCs have been allowed to erode past the point of usefulness, at least in some instances. The causes were many: Different commands had different assessments of the value of the ATC process. New com-
manders—whether warfighters, laboratory leaders, or acquisition top management—sometimes had other priorities. Sometimes overtaxed leadership let the intervals between ATCs increase, from quarterly to semiannual, then to annual, and sometimes beyond that. The staffs of participating organizations began to require multiple pre-briefings, adding bureaucracy to the process and arguably watering down the frank dialogue. Eventually, the rank—and the perspective and the power—of ATC attendees declined: What had at one time been meetings of lieutenant generals eventually became meetings of lieutenant colonels.
Vanguard and ATCs were both strong efforts aimed at integrating the needs and capabilities of operational commands (or Major Commands), S&T organizations, and acquisition centers. Both enjoyed success, and both eventually faded from view. As with the demise of Vanguard—and as with the declines of systems engineering and Development Planning—the erosion of ATCs in some areas represents a significant setback in the pursuit of a fully integrated technology development and systems acquisition mission.