Publicly Released: August 28, 2023
We determined whether the Air Force effectively used the middle tier of acquisition (MTA) pathway for the prototyping and fielding of the Three‑Dimensional Expeditionary Long‑Range Radar (3DELRR) program.
The MTA pathway is an adaptive acquisition framework, which is tailored specifically to technologies that are mature enough to be rapidly prototyped and fielded within five years of an MTA program start. The MTA pathway has two distinct paths— the rapid prototyping path and the rapid fielding path. The 3DELRR is a long‑range, ground-based sensor for detecting, identifying, tracking, and reporting aerial targets for the Air Force. The Air Force planned to procure a total of 35 radar systems through FY 2028.
The Air Force did not effectively use the MTA pathway for prototyping and fielding the 3DELRR system. Specifically, the 3DELRR program office did not complete the exit criteria during the MTA rapid prototyping path before the program transitioned to the MTA rapid fielding path or plan to complete fielding all 35 systems within five years of the MTA rapid fielding path start date as required by DoD Instruction 5000.80. (U) This occurred because the Air Force’s interpretation of funding guidance was incorrect. Air Force officials stated that they believed the initial production units could not be purchased in the rapid prototyping August 24, 2023 (U) path using procurement funding. However, the DoD Financial Management Regulation authorizes the use of procurement funding. This misinterpretation led the 3DELRR program office to transition almost three years early to the rapid fielding path to use procurement funding. As a result, the 3DELRR program office planned to transition the 3DELRR program into a major capability acquisition early because it may not complete the rapid fielding path within the five-year time limit. Additionally, this early transition may extend the time to develop needed capabilities that would benefit the warfighter.
We recommend that the Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition and Sustainment consult with the Under Secretary of Defense (Comptroller)/Chief Financial Officer, DoD, to develop and implement guidance that establishes the appropriate funding source to purchase initial production units during the rapid prototyping and rapid fielding paths. We recommend that the Assistant Secretary of the Air Force (Acquisition, Technology, and Logistics) require the Air Force Program Executive Officer Digital to request a waiver to extend the rapid fielding path for the 3DELRR program to complete fielding in the MTA pathway, and require the 3DELRR program office to develop a plan to complete fielding the 3DELRR program in the rapid fielding path if a waiver is issued.
Management Comments and Our Response
The Director, Acquisition Data and Analytics, responding for the Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition and Sustainment, disagreed with the recommendations. In addition, the Air Force had not responded to the recommendation. Therefore, we consider all three recommendations in this report unresolved and open. As a result of management comments, we redirected one recommendation and elevated another recommendation. We request additional comments on the unresolved recommendations within 30 days.
This report is a result of Project No. D2022-D000AT-0111.000