Title: Where Have All the Prototypes Gone? The Failure of the Prototyping Initiatives of the 1990s

Subject: Evaluation of the prototyping initiatives of the 1990s and their impact on force modernization.

Author(s): Devin L. Cate; Mikael S. Beno (Faculty Advisor)


Abstract: In the early 1990s, the DOD cast prototyping in a new role as an acquisition reform measure. Although prototyping was already an accepted part of system acquisition, the initiatives of the early '90s advanced the notion of prototypes as a means of developing technology without the necessity of costly follow-on production. Prototype technology could be shelved and selectively produced, offering huge potential savings in defense dollars. Since the time of these proposals, however, the expected surge of prototyping efforts for large, complex systems, such as aircraft and tanks, has not materialized. In this report, the author traces the acquisition strategies found in the DOD's Annual Report to the President and the Congress from 1992 through 1996 to show the evolution of this new role for prototyping. The author finds that the early prototyping initiatives evolved to a specific kind of prototyping--Advanced Concept Technology Demonstrators (ACTDs). An ACTD operationally tests an advanced technology and, if successful, directly fields the test articles or begins formal procurement of the system. This process applies to relatively simple systems with low-rate production (1-10 units), such as unmanned aerial vehicles. Though ACTDs may prove successful for these simpler systems, the prototyping initiatives failed for large, complex systems, for several reasons detailed in this paper. The impact of this failure is that policy makers have an acquisition system little changed from the Cold War. However, with sharply reduced budgets, policy makers face difficult force modernization decisions. The author discusses four options.

Last updated 1997 Nov 14