Key Issues > DOD Weapon Systems Acquisition - High Risk Issue
defense icon, source: [West Covina, California] Progressive Management, 2008

DOD Weapon Systems Acquisition - High Risk Issue

Congress and the Department of Defense (DOD) have long sought to improve how major defense weapon systems are acquired. Yet, many programs in DOD's over $1.6 trillion portfolio continue to fall short of cost, schedule, and performance expectations. As a result, DOD often pays more than anticipated, buys less than expected, and delivers less capability to the warfighter.

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GAO's annual "DOD Quick Look" reports compare DOD’s progress on acquiring major defense weapon systems to best acquisition practices and chronicle the cost, schedule, and performance challenges of these systems, which currently include:

Selected Major Defense Acquisition Programs

In addition, GAO has issued numerous reports on individual acquisition programs such as KC-46 Tanker Modernization, the Amphibious Combat Vehicle, the MQ-25 Unmanned Aircraft System, and the VH-92A Presidential Helicopter.   

Key information needed

Since Congress passed the Weapon Systems Acquisition Reform Act of 2009, DOD has improved the way it acquires weapon systems. For example, defense weapon systems programs initiated since 2010 have done a better job of staying within budget estimates than their predecessors. However, we have observed that programs experience the majority of cost growth after entering production, and are proceeding or plan to proceed into development and production without the key knowledge essential to good acquisition outcomes.

GAO has identified three key points in the course of a weapon system acquisition where programs should demonstrate critical levels of knowledge before proceeding to the next phase. Otherwise, they are more likely to face undesirable cost, schedule, and performance outcomes. 

Defense Acquisition Cycle and GAO-Identified Knowledge Points

Cybersecurity issues

DOD’s weapon systems are more software dependent and more networked than ever before—making them more vulnerable to cyberattacks. DOD’s networks can also be used to attack other information technology systems. Despite numerous warnings over the past few decades, DOD has only recently begun to prioritize cybersecurity in weapon systems acquisitions.

Embedded Software and Information Technology Systems in DOD Weapon Systems (Fictional Representation)

Looking for our recommendations? Click on any report to find each associated recommendation and its current implementation status.


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  • portrait of Shelby S. Oakley
    • Shelby S. Oakley
    • Director, Contracting and National Security Acquisitions
    • (202) 512-4841