Paper - Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, Harvard Kennedy School

Buying What Works: An Acquisitions Strategy for the Reality of Dual-Use Technologies

| October 2022

Student Research Paper

Technology, society, and warfare are not stagnant. As the Department of Defense continues to become more of a consumer of commercially developed capabilities, it must develop tools and pathways to effectively acquire and utilize them. Dual-use technologies are increasing in complexity, scale, and application to warfighting, but are increasingly researched and developed by the private sector. Data and information systems, situational awareness, unmanned autonomous vehicles, machine learning, artificial intelligence, exoskeletons, computing systems, and biotechnologies do not need a national security market to exist, but will become more applicable to national security needs as they develop.

Acquiring commercial capabilities and integrating them into the American national security architecture and planning has been a challenge for decades, and significant work has been realized in contracting diverse technologies for soldiers, sailors, airmen, marines, and guardians. However, as commercially produced dual-use technology begins to rival or surpass that of the Department of Defense, a process that elevates commercial technology to the architectural planning level must
be developed. Currently, the Department of Defense can purchase a commercial capability off-the-shelf and integrate it into long term planning as a program of record. Commercial-off-the-shelf capabilities can be bought or contracted. However, if the force-multiplying or threat-reducing capabilities precede the establishment of requirements by the Department of Defense, then it cannot become a program of record except in the most extreme circumstances, a title given to acquisitions efforts that undergo a specific process and generally increases budgetary, sustainment, and planning benefits.

The Department of Defense should implement an “effects-driven” acquisitions system rather than “capabilities-based.” System requirements should be based on the effects required to wage and win conflicts across a continuum, rather than on specific, domain- and platform-centric capabilities. An effects-driven acquisitions system will increase the diversity of solutions, and by appropriating money to effects-driven portfolios, Congress can still maintain control of the purse while the Department of Defense can more effectively allocate its appropriated funds.

For more information on this publication: Belfer Communications Office
For Academic Citation: Williams, Coen. “Buying What Works: An Acquisitions Strategy for the Reality of Dual-Use Technologies.” Paper, Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, Harvard Kennedy School, October 2022.