DoD Acquisition as a Sport

The US Department of Defense acquires systems to equip forces to assure the national security of the country.  The process of acquiring systems is termed Acquisition, which involves a very complex organizational system across the Office of the Secretary of Defense, the four (now five) military services, and the aerospace/defense industry.  It is very competitive.

If Acquisition were a sport, how might it be characterized?  We can immediately eliminate sports such as archery, badminton, golf, ice dancing, skiing, and tennis, where results are totally dependent on individual performance.  While individuals such as the Secretary of Defense or the Military Service Secretaries can have enormous impacts, they have influence but not control over this complex adaptive system.

What about baseball, basketball, football, and hockey – the big four in the US?  Baseball focuses on the duel between pitchers and hitters; Acquisition is not at all this focused.  Basketball relies on five key players, of which two or three need to be superstars.  In football, the quarterback, running backs, and wide receivers dominate.  Hockey is similar, with a goalie charged with preventing goals.  Lacrosse fits in here as a hybrid of basketball and football.  Acquisition is not at all like this.

This leads us to rugby and soccer.  These sports have rules, but they do not stop the clock for commercials.  Players have “positions,” but anyone can score.  Players do not wear protective gear.  Rugby allows carrying the ball while soccer does not.  Both sports are much more fluid and not dominated by referee decisions.  Of course, at the other extreme is cricket where games can take several days, meals, and sleeping.

So, what kind of game is Acquisition?  Here are ten rules of the game:

  1. Games can take many years, sometimes with delays of multiple years.
  2. Teams typically include the usual players with occasionally surprise draft choices.
  3. Rules of the game are fluid, subject to influence by many stakeholders.
  4. Officials can appear from anywhere and invoke unheard of rules.
  5. Proprietary advantages can be declared unfair and made public technology.
  6. Plays that have long been successful can be ruled illegal.
  7. Winning can include a nominal trophy, but not all the expected accolades.
  8. Proposed pricing is open to renegotiation after winning.
  9. The fruits of winning may diminish but pricing commitments remain.
  10. Winning does not necessarily result in subsequent higher seeding.

Despite all this, the same teams seem to win all the time.  It is as if the Red Sox and Yankees merged, the Celtics and Lakers did as well, the Cowboys and the 49ers followed, and the Canadiens and Maple Leafs also merged to win the trophies every year.  All that remains are the commercials for beer and pickup trucks.

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