Report | Sept. 28, 2021

Audit of Department of Defense Middle Tier of Acquisition Rapid Prototyping and Rapid Fielding Programs (DODIG-2021-131)


Publicly Released: September 30, 2021



The objective of this audit was to determine whether DoD Component acquisition officials managed programs for the middle tier of acquisition (MTA) rapid prototyping or rapid fielding in accordance with DoD guidance.



Section 804 of the National Defense Authorization Act for FY 2016, provides the DoD the authority to rapidly prototype and rapidly field capabilities under a new acquisition pathway and required the DoD to issue implementing guidance. The reforms included an expedited and streamlined alternative acquisition process—referred to as the MTA. The MTA pathway is intended to provide an acquisition pathway to develop and acquire those capabilities mature enough to be rapidly prototyped or fielded within 5 years of starting an MTA program. Specifically, the:

  • Rapid Prototyping Pathway uses innovative technologies to rapidly develop fieldable prototypes to demonstrate new capabilities and meet emerging military needs, fields a prototype that can be demonstrated in an operational environment, and provides for a residual operational capability within 5 years of the development of an approved requirement; and
  • Rapid Fielding Pathway uses proven technologies to field production quantities of new or upgraded systems with minimal development required, begins production within 6 months, and completes fielding within 5 years of the development of an approved requirement.

The MTA pathways recognize the DoD’s need to move faster on promising technologies that are too immature (too early in concept) to declare as an acquisition program but have the ability to provide the DoD significant advantages if they are delivered faster.

DoD guidance establishes policy, assigns responsibilities, and prescribes procedures for the management of the MTA pathways for rapid prototyping and rapid fielding and incorporates MTA requirements addressed in the National Defense Authorization Act.

As of September 30, 2020, DoD Components had 69 active MTA programs (56 rapid prototyping and 13 rapid fielding) with an estimated value of $31.1 billion.



DoD acquisition personnel effectively leveraged the MTA pathway for 11 programs we reviewed to rapidly develop prototypes and field proven technologies to the warfighter as intended by DoD guidance.

Acquisition personnel effectively leveraged the MTA pathways because DoD Acquisition Executives encouraged and supported the use of the MTA pathways, and Program Executive Offices and Program Managers used the flexibilities provided by the MTA pathways. For example, MTA programs are exempt from traditional acquisition processes and all 11 of the programs that we reviewed tailored acquisition documentation to the unique characteristics and risk profiles of their programs as appropriate.

As a result, DoD programs embraced the shift in acquisition culture and increased the use of MTA pathways. For the programs we reviewed, use of the MTA pathways increased efficiencies and effectiveness by streamlining acquisition processes and expediting prototyping and fielding efforts. Because the MTA programs are still in the early stages of execution and DoD acquisition reform remains a work in progress, the DoD must continue to balance management and oversight of these programs with the risk involved to ensure the efficient delivery of needed, useful, capabilities at a fair and reasonable cost.


This report is the result of Proj. No. D2020-D000AW-0179.000.