Disrupting Acquisition Blog

Five Ways to Deliver Capabilities in the Threat Window

by | Oct 4, 2022 | Accelerate, Innovation, Rapid Acquisition

What if China decided today was the day they invade Taiwan and in the process launch first strike attacks against Guam and Hawaii?

We will be at war with the military we have today.

The average DoD aircraft is 30 years old. The DoD launched most of its ships, submarines, and satellites in the last century. We’ll go to war with depleted stockpiles as a result of supporting Ukraine, supply chain issues, Middle East wars, and strategic investment decisions made by Congress and DoD over the last decade. The Air Force could deplete its entire inventory of JASSMs and LRASMs in about a week. While the war in Ukraine taught us some key lessons, we’re still not prepared for a major war with a near peer adversary today.

What if we had more time, but not as much time as we think.

Michèle Flournoy and Michael Brown wrote in Foreign Affairs:

“Many of the U.S. military’s most promising capabilities to counter China in the event of a conflict over Taiwan will not be ready and fully integrated into the force until the 2030s. This creates a window of vulnerability for Taiwan, most likely between 2024 and 2027, in which Xi may conclude he has the best chance of military success should his preferred methods of political coercion and economic envelopment of Taiwan fail.”

The 2024 – 2027 window opens in only 15 months.


ADM John Acquilino, INDOPACOM Commander, testified to Congress in March

Xi Jinping has publicly directed the PLA to complete most elements of military modernization by 2027, and they continue to execute the most extensive military build-up since WWII with a comprehensive modernization program across land, sea, air, space, cyber, and information domains. Already possessing the largest navy in the world, the PRC is expanding this formidable force by adding new capabilities to a fleet expected to grow to 420 battle force ships by 2025.

The DoD’s enterprise is designed to deliver major systems in 15 years.


Many of DoD’s major new weapon systems won’t be operational until after the threat window. This includes the Air Force’s NGAD and E-7, the Navy’s Columbia and UxSs, and the Army’s future helicopters FLRAA and FARA.


DoD has five avenues to deliver new capabilities to INDOPACOM in the 2024 – 2027 timeframe.

1. Current Acquisition Programs.

Of the hundreds of current acquisition programs, a subset are in production and planning to deliver in the window or soon thereafter. DoD can take steps to accelerate and scale system production. For example, the Air Force is taking steps to accelerate B-21’s IOC.

2. Current Middle Tier of Acquisition (MTA) programs.

DoD has over 100 MTA rapid acquisition programs constrained to five years or less. Roughly 80% are rapid prototypes that will deliver some operational capabilities, while 20% rapidly field production quantities of systems.

3. Acquire Commercial Solutions.

If DoD was in a major conflict in China, it would look to industry for all readily available systems and services with military applications. This can be done by leveraging Commercial Solutions Openings, which DIU has successfully done for a few years. It can also leverage Commercial Items (FAR Part 12) and Simplified Acquisition (FAR Part 13), which statute and regulation stress commercial and simplicity as preferred approaches. Congress continues to stress DoD must move faster to leverage commercial technology. DoD requires a strong industrial base. While the U.S. primes retain the top 5 rankings among global defense companies, China has six of the next nine spots most with double digit revenue growth.

4. Rapidly Produce New Systems.

DoD can leverage the Urgent Capability Acquisition pathway to address urgent operational needs within two years and the MTA rapid fielding pathway to produce systems with minimal development within five years. These pathways were designed to streamline processes to enable delivery at the speed of relevance. Space acquisition executive Frank Calvelli recently lauded SDA as model for all space acquisition including building smaller spacecraft faster. The Navy successfully demonstrated many unmanned and autonomous ships at RIMPAC this summer and is moving forward with new programs. The Defense Production Act Title III authorizes the President to create or expand the industrial base capabilities for national defense. DoD continues to seek funding for a Critical Munitions Acquisition Fund, yet get shot down by Senate appropriators. Congress did fund the Accelerate Procurement and Fielding of Innovative Technologies (APFIT) pilot program whereby 10 programs will receive $10M to help cross the Valley of Death.

5. Develop New Software.

As DoD pivots to software defined warfare, it can leverage software factories, DevSecOps pipelines, and enterprise services, rapidly develop, deliver, and iterate on new software capabilities to address priority INDOPACOM needs (like JADC2). While dozens of programs are leveraging the new software acquisition pathway, DoD needs to continue to accelerate enterprise processes, workforce, and culture to enable rapid delivery of software. Software startups and small businesses have pressed Congress to improve how DoD buys software. Some leading companies like Anduril are championing pivoting to a software-first model to enable greater speed and agility.

The 2024 – 2027 window opens in only 15 months.

What are we doing to rapidly deliver mission impactful capabilities to INDOPACOM at the speed of relevance to deter or defeat China?

Disclaimer:  The opinions expressed here are those of the authors only and do not represent the positions of the MITRE Corporation or its sponsors.


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