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Pentagon’s Director, Operational Test & Evaluation 2021 Annual Report

The following is the Office of the Director, Operational Test & Evaluation (DOT&E) 2021 annual report. It was released On Jan. 27, 2022.

From the report

As we start the third decade of the 21st century, the United States remains the world’s preeminent military power, thanks to our dedicated all-volunteer force, who are committed to their oath to support and defend the Constitution, and the civilians who stand beside and behind our women and men in uniform. Our Armed Forces’ intellect, creativity, and countless hours of selfless service fuel America’s successful national defense. Those unparalleled intangibles are backed by the technology the Defense Department puts in their hands, which, thus far, has given them the edge necessary to protect our homeland and our allies, and to advance the United States’ strategic objectives.

The acquisition and testing communities are responsible for ensuring that this technology continues to provide American forces the decisive advantage they need. On the surface, the operational tester’s job may appear simple: determine a system’s operational effectiveness and suitability, and the survivability of the system and its operator, in the context of the intended mission. This succinct description belies the challenge in assessing a weapon or other technology in operationally realistic conditions – with the warfighters who will use it, in the expected physical environment, under the tactical conditions and battle plan anticipated, facing threats that accurately replicate our potential adversaries. As the operational test community knows, fulfilling that mandate was never simple and the future offers no respite. U.S. systems are growing more complex; our adversaries are becoming more sophisticated and capable; and joint multi-domain operations, encompassing land, air, sea, space, and cyberspace, are now the driving operating concept. The need to execute rigorous, credible OT&E has not lessened; in fact, it may be more critical than ever. Over the past year, competitors revealed technological advances that match and outpace our own, for instance, in hypersonic missiles. In November 2021, just prior to concluding four decades of service, then Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General John Hyten remarked that “probably should create a sense of urgency.” DOT&E couldn’t agree more.

But where should that sense of urgency steer the operational test community? Concerns about being able to conduct proper OT&E are perennial. The Annual Report for Fiscal Year 2000 noted then that “Weapon technologies are outdistancing our ability to adequately test systems as they are developed.” That statement remains accurate today. The high-volume wave of new technology in DOD’s acquisition pipeline, the rapidly changing threat landscape against which we must evaluate it, and the need to field systems at the ever-quickening speed of relevance will strain or exceed our current infrastructure, tools, processes, and knowledge base.

Some of the most frequently cited principles and means to improve acquisition outcomes and T&E efficacy and efficiency aren’t novel, either. In 1995, then Secretary of Defense William Perry laid out five themes to guide the strategic direction for T&E. Four of them are equally valid now as they were 26 years ago: earlier involvement of operational testers in the acquisition process; more and more effective use of models and simulations; combining, where possible, different types of testing; and conducting operational testing and training exercises together. Quoting then Under Secretary of Defense (Acquisition, Technology, and Logistics) Jacques Gansler, the FY 2000 Annual Report also highlighted what is now known as the “shift left” mantra: “… serious testing with a view toward operations should be started early in the life of a program. Early testing against operational requirements will provide earlier indications of military usefulness. It is also much less expensive to correct flaws in system design, both hardware and software, if they are identified early in a program. Performance-based acquisition programs reflect our emphasis on satisfying operational requirements vice system specifications.”
These sentences could have been crafted today.

The nature of most organizations is to change incrementally – that is, to evolve – and the Defense Department is no exception. But the pace of evolution no longer is sufficient for national security writ large, nor operational test and evaluation in particular. Instead, to keep fulfilling our obligation to the warfighter, we need a T&E revolution.

Download the document here.