Sunday, September 04, 2005

JCIDS: Is it Necessary?

Thomas Barnett, in his article Donald Rumsfeld: Old Man in a Hurry, briefly discussed a major new defense process that attempts to redesign how America decides to purchase advanced military weaponry. The Joint Capabilities Integration and Development System (JCIDS) aims at making the acquisition process a joint affair. Before JCIDS, each of the services explored their own acquisitions separately; this routinely resulted in “stovepiping” where services would attempt to procure systems with similar capabilities without cooperating with each other. The theory behind JCIDS is bring senior level military and civilian leadership together (especially the combatant commanders) and decide where gaps in our capabilities are and how to address them. This “top down” approach should reduce unnecessary overlap, more quickly address capability gaps, and, as Barnett describes, foster joint warfighting. Unfortunately, JCIDS has not yet lived up to expectations.

While progress has been made, the approach has not yet been embraced. After over two years, acquisition programs still do not fully understand the process behind JCIDS. JCIDS demands that the military make a “mental mindshift” requiring a complete cultural overhaul. As the Joint staff quickly discovered, the military is a systematic environment; documentation that was supposed to outline capabilities and analyze alternatives looked ever so similar to the old documentation. Even the senior leaders responsible for the policy, embodied in the Joint Requirements Oversight Council, are most likely biased towards the older system, having served their careers doing acquisitions a certain way.

Rather than just creating a new way of doing business, JCIDS has created nervousness and confusion for program offices. Programs view JCIDS as yet another hoop they must jump through; others such as the Joint Strike Fighter program view JCIDS as a further attack on their survival. The additional documentation which JCIDS requires adds yet another bureaucratic layer in which to burden programs. So the question remains: Is JCIDS necessary and will it be effective?

The goals of JCIDS are needed and the military must aspire to reach them. Interoperability will be a cornerstone of joint operations; the services must be able to work together (that includes their “toys” which will also have to be able to work and communicate together). JCIDS’s effectiveness is another matter; with DOD and Congress still appropriating budgets in a service specific manner, JCIDS will never have the “power of the purse” and will therefore remain somewhat ineffective. Some are even questioning whether DOD should continue with a capabilities based approach to weapon acquisitions and believe it should adopt a “threat based” approach (based on acquiring weapons that will target threats not perform broadly defined capabilities). As demands on the budget increase, the debate over JCIDS and its effectiveness will continue to grow.

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