A Government Accountability Office (GAO) report published on 17 June 2024, found that the US Department of Defence (DoD) is struggling to field new weapon system technologies quickly, and failing to take advantage of leading product development practices in some programmes. 

The increase in the time to delivery for initial capabilities from Major Defence Acquisition Programmes (MDAPs) is a concerning trend within the DoD. MDAPs are experiencing delays in achieving planned initial operational capability dates, with more than half of the assessed programmes reporting schedule delays in the past year.

The results of these delays include slower innovation and development, reduced adaptability, a risk of technological obsolescence within DoD programmes, and inefficient resource allocation.

For those MDAP that have delivered an initial capability, the average time to do so increased from 8 years to 11 years since 2023. For these MDAP, the average overrun was 3 years. 

These delays in delivering initial capabilities can have significant implications for military readiness and national security. They may result in gaps in operational capabilities, reduced effectiveness in addressing emerging threats, and increased costs associated with prolonged development timelines.

Among MDAP that are still to deliver an initial capability, the average wait has been 10 years, slightly longer than the GAO found in 2023. 

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Factors contributing to the delays in delivering initial capabilities from MDAPs include issues such as test delays, production challenges, staffing shortages, and supply chain disruptions.

The GAO also found that costs for MDAP had decreased slightly, by $1.7bn on a $2trn investment, largely due to changes in inflation rate assumptions, but also representing quantity reductions for some programmes offsetting quantity increases elsewhere. 

The GAO recommended several key practices for programmes to follow at critical design review and production start milestones to enhance the success and efficiency of MDAPs. 

Programmes should ensure that they have achieved critical levels of knowledge before proceeding to the next acquisition phase, and they should standardise the way manufacturing risks are managed.