Acquisition, defense, systems engineering, prototype, open systems, case study


Due to extensive challenges to the efficient development and fielding of operationally effective and affordable weapon systems, the U.S. employs a complex management framework to govern defense acquisition programs. The Department of Defense and Congress recently modified this process to improve the levels of knowledge available at key decision points in order to reduce lifecycle cost, schedule, and technical risk to programs. This exploratory research study employed multiple methods to examine the impact of systems engineering reviews, competitive prototyping, and the application of a Modular Open Systems Approach on knowledge and risk prior to funding system implementation and production. In-depth case studies of two recent Major Defense Acquisition Programs were conducted to verify the existence and relationships of the proposed constructs and identify potential barriers to program success introduced by the new process. The case studies included program documentation analysis as well as interviews with contractor personnel holding multiple roles on the program. A questionnaire-based survey of contractor personnel from a larger set of programs was executed to test the case study findings against a larger data set. The study results indicate that while some changes adversely affected program risk levels, the recent modifications to the acquisition process generally had a positive impact on levels of critical knowledge at the key Milestone B decision point. Based on the results of this study it is recommended that the Government improve its ability to communicate with contractors during competitive phases, particularly with regard to requirements management, and establish verifiable criteria for compliance with the iii Modular Open Systems Approach. Additionally, the Government should clarify the intent of competitive prototyping and develop a strategy to better manage the inevitable gaps between program phases. Contractors are recommended to present more requirements trade-offs and focus less on prototype development during the Technology Development phases of programs. The results of this study may be used by policy makers to shape future acquisition reforms; by Government personnel to improve the implementation of the current regulations; and by contractors to shape strategies and processes for more effective system development. This research may be used by the Government to improve the execution of acquisition programs under this new paradigm. The defense industrial base can use this research to better understand the impacts of the new process and improve strategic planning processes. The research methodology may be applied to new and different types of programs to assess improvement in the execution process over time.


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Graduation Date





Kotnour, Timothy


Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)


College of Engineering and Computer Science


Industrial Engineering and Management Systems

Degree Program

Industrial Engineering








Release Date

August 2012

Length of Campus-only Access


Access Status

Doctoral Dissertation (Open Access)


Dissertations, Academic -- Engineering and Computer Science, Engineering and Computer Science -- Dissertations, Academic