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A Systems Thinking Approach to Cost Growth in DoD Weapon Systems Open Access

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The cost of Department of Defense (DoD) weapon systems acquisitions has risen at an alarming rate of 46% since the 1960s, according to third-party investigations. Despite considerable DoD efforts to reduce cost growth, historical review demonstrates a pattern of underestimation of weapon systems cost. The research presented here highlights the human influence on acquiring, sustaining, and managing weapon systems, as it relates to cost growth. The DoD has recently identified most weapon systems as systems of systems, thus a systems thinking approach to Department of Defense (DoD) weapon systems cost growth is ideal, as it breaks away from traditional reverse-engineering and reductionism approaches and integrates quantitative and qualitative data.The methods of research employed here include analysis of numerical data, statistical findings by research and development groups, review of DoD Selected Acquisition Reports (SARs), and simulation of the adaptive learning process of producing estimates for two weapons systems programs (the F/A-18E/F and F/A-22 fighter jets), using the TREND function. I argue that the improved cost estimates resulting from the systems thinking approach presented here should be implemented in support of existing cost estimating tools, because this approach takes into account human delays affecting the estimates, for example the time lags inherent to data collection or to changes in perception of the system. To test the usability and feasibility of the approach, the results of the TREND function were compared retroactively against cost estimates from Selected Acquisition Reports (SARs) on the two selected DoD weapon systems programs. A systems thinking approach to cost growth as an emergent behavior of the DoD weapon systems acquisitions process provides decision makers at various levels of authority with a more holistic understanding of cause, effect, and reaction in order to assess current and future cost trends. This research provides a foundation for such an approach.

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