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What are Game Breakers?
Game Breakers (GB) are decisions that are the decisive action (a design choice, a teaming decision, an investment decision, an initiative, etc.) made along the way that ultimately leads to “The Win”. Unlike professional sports—where the GB is often a big NFL play during last two minutes, a winning three-pointer at the buzzer, or a walk-off home run—in major acquisition competitions the decisions that define GBs occur along the way and at the time may not yet be evident as a GB. Often, GBs occur well before the game (competitive acquisition) even begins.
This Part I post of a two-part series will describe two categories of game breakers. Category 1 GBs are characterized by the convergence of mission need and an innovative enabling technical solution. The contractor effecting this convergence early on with a substantiated concept design has a head start in influencing the acquisition plan and underlying requirements. Their concept’s mission capability often becomes the centerpiece of the customer’s justification (i.e., the existence proof) for the new start. These GBs occur in advance of the pre-acquisition cycle and before the customer’s Material Development Decision.
Category 2 GBs address positioning actions prior to the RFP that strengthen competitive posture. The program examples presented here are classic and remain applicable today and into the future. Part II of this series will address Game Breakers in three additional categories.
History offers dozens of Category 1 GBs; two significant examples are illustrated below:
America’s First Intercontinental Ballistic Missile (ICBM) – After World War II, a key element of U.S. National Security strategy involved staying ahead of the USSR in military technology/mission capability. Nazi Germany’s V2 ballistic missile, Hitler’s Vengeance Weapon 2 used to bombard London in WWII, was the first significant use of ballistic missiles. After WWII a combination of U.S. technical advances—including thrust vectoring of rocket engines (proven earlier on V2), inertial navigation, and dry hydrogen warheads—enabled the technical feasibility of the ICBM. The challenge was to get the range and payload capability in a vehicle that was not too large and heavy to be manageable in transport, storage, and maintenance. General Dynamics’ Convair created its one-and-one-half (1½) stage ATLAS, which was less risky (all 5 rockets, one of which was for the second stage were ignited before takeoff) and more efficient approach than a two-stage vehicle. For the 1½ stage vehicle to accomplish the mission without being unduly heavy, the upper stage required high structural efficiency (i.e., high fuel volume per pound of dry weight.) The high finesse ratio (length/diameter) of the thin-skinned cylindrical upper stage had to withstand the maximum aerodynamic bending stress load during boost. Charles Bossert, a Convair engineer, created the enabling technical solution of pressurizing the liquid fueled upper stage. Pressurization increased the stiffness enough to withstand maximum bending load without having increased skin thickness or added longitudinal stiffeners. ATLAS “leaps off” at 440,000 pounds, of which 409,000 is fuel (highly efficient takeoff weight to empty weight), to propel a 5,000-pound payload 5,500 miles. Thus, a technical innovation GB enabled the ATLAS ICBM.
Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) – Between 1983 and 1993, the U.S. government undertook several efforts to study the technologies available to design and manufacture a follow-on stealthy supersonic fighter that could replace the USMC AV-8 Harrier as well as other aging U.S. fighters. Among these efforts were DARPA’s Advanced Short Take Off Vertical Landing (AVSTOL) and NASA’s STOVL Strike Fighter (SSF). These concepts began to show multi-service capability. Several additional studies were conducted. These studies led to the 1994-1996 Joint Advanced Strike Technology (JAST)/Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) Concept Exploration and Concept Definition phase wherein fighter primes were funded to conduct conceptual designs for what ultimately became the Joint Strike Fighter (now the F-35).
In analysis, the Lockheed Skunk Works Chief Engineer, Paul Bevilaqua, and his team created the conceptual design of an Integrated Lift Fan Propulsion System (ILFP), which Lockheed was quick to patent. The ILFP concept was viewed both by the customer and internal Lockheed engineers as risky and not yet matured. Lockheed invested in the concept with teammates P&W and Rolls Royce as risk-sharing and investment partners. The team matured, demonstrated, and validated risky elements of ILFP in “miracle of the month” risk mitigation tests. Among the risky elements were the engine-to-fan clutch, drive shaft and bevel-gearbox. These elements would have to divert 29,000 horsepower from the engine’s low-pressure turbine to the lift fan for vertical landings. Also risky were the lightweight counter rotating lift fan and the three bearing swivel module. The ILFP was a the key factor in JSF feasibility and Lockheed’s XF-35B fly-off prototype’s ability to demonstrate the required 500-foot STOL takeoff, supersonic flight, and return with a vertical landing. Unfortunately, Boeing’s XF-32B (other fly off competitor) failed to demo this capability at the required conditions.
The ATLAS and JSF Game Breaker examples are two of many where the winning contractor had earlier helped the customer validate the new start with the capability of an innovative technical solution. All are characterized by a contractor’s creative derivation of a need-driven innovative technical design concept that was further perfected by (1) investments to advance the design maturity and (2) risk mitigation demos to reduce risk.
There are numerous Category 2 positioning GB actions that often end up being pre-emptive moves. For brevity, this discussion will be limited to two types: teaming to win and investing to win (or combinations of both).
Teaming to Win Examples
MDA Airborne Laser Development – Once Boeing, Lockheed and TRW brought forward a team representing the key system elements (TRW’s laser, Lockheed’s space pointing system, and Boeing’s airplane and role of integrator), the winner’s pre-emptive strength was obvious going in.
AIM-9X Air-to-Air Missile – The AIM-9X competition resulted from failed prior attempts (AIM-9M and AIM-9R) to solve the driving requirement counter-countermeasure (CCM) capability. Hughes conducted a comprehensive Competitive Assessment months prior to submitting proposals in a “neck down from three contractors to two” competition for funded 18-month Dem/Val contracts. The Competitive Assessment’s conclusion was Hughes’ competitive shortfall in CCM. An outside consultant recommended Hughes team with Texas Instruments (TI). Despite the Capture Manager’s (CM) urgency to team, Hughes management deliberated for weeks as Hughes engineers made a play to develop the CCM capability in house. Knowing that TI had significant government funded CCM CRAD, Hughes’ CM contacted TI and learned TI was surprised that they hadn’t heard from Hughes. What’s more, TI was about to team with Raytheon. The Hughes’ CM immediately offered TI the teammate role and more work share (although not yet defined). It was an offer TI could not refuse. The Hughes/TI team strength—with Hughes’ earlier development and production of the seeker for UK’s Advanced Short Range Air Missile ASRAM, coupled with TI’s CCM capability—was pre-emptive with an “all blue” DEM/VAL proposal. And, the team’s DEM/VAL test performance validated the CCM capability. The Hughes/ TI team won the development and production contract.
USAF Advanced Tactical Fighter (ATF) – In the mid 1980s Lockheed positioned to compete for the Advanced Tactical Fighter (later to become the F-22). The desired capability included: long range first look, first shot, first kill capability; stealth; short takeoff and landing; Mach 2; excellent subsonic and supersonic maneuverability; and super cruise in basic engine (without using after burner). Despite some teaming discussions prior to the proposals, all primes, being blinded with testosterone, elected to bid as prime. Several months prior to USAF announcing the Dem/Val awards, Lockheed leaders believed they needed a strong teammate to win the final down-select for SD&D and production. Thus, Lockheed initiated a three-way teaming approach, which was approved by the CEOs of Lockheed, Boeing, and General Dynamics in June 1986. In essence, the three companies would continue to compete for a Dem/Val award, but if and when one of the three won, it would be team leader and prime with each of the three getting 1/3 of the work by dollar value. On 13 October officials of the three companies signed a formal teaming agreement. It was just in time, considering on 31 October Lockheed and Northrop each received ATF Dem/Val Prototype contracts for $691 million. (USAF assigns F-22 to Lockheed and F-23 to Northrop). Three days later the Lockheed, General Dynamics, and Boeing activated their F22 Program Team (PT) under the leadership of Sherm Mullin, Lockheed’s Vice President and F-22 Program Team General Manager. Mullin and his counter parts in the Team Program from GD and Boeing made all decisions jointly and in real time. The Team program office gave direction and managed all work with simple, agile, and efficient policies and procedures. Imperatives for winning were speed and clarity of communications and decisions. During the course of winning, Lockheed and its two partners each invested several hundred million dollars to enable the win
Investing to Win Examples
US Navy MQ-25 UAV Tanker – The Carrier strike range requirements stemming from the pivot to Asia punctuated the need for a tanker with aerodynamic and structural design efficiencies to provide maximum fuel transfer capability per pound of takeoff gross weight. Boeing allegedly waited until the requirements were finalized and then crafted a clean piece of paper design optimized to meet these requirements. Prior to the award, Boeing invested in a flyable prototype to mitigate risk.
Boeing faced a possible deferred investment in price risk with their reported price for the Fixed Price Incentive Fee award being less than half of each of the other two competitors. Boeing likely viewed the opportunity as strategic with the efficient MQ-25 aircraft, ultimately making itself a market above and beyond the planned Navy buy of 72 tankers. This bigger business case may well have been the basis for the “gamey” price.
DARPA Have Blue Half-Scale Stealth Demonstrator – In the mid 1970s DARPA held a competition for the Have Blue stealth flyable demonstrator to validate the reduced radar return and the air-worthiness of a stealth vehicle. Lockheed, with its extensive configuration refinement simulation and model testing of radar signature and wind tunnel testing, perfected its faceted Have Blue design. To ensure winning, Lockheed elected to invest its own funds in an amount equal to the funds DARPA had available for the program. Later, stemming from the Have Blue program was the F-117 stealth fighter and the preliminary design of a bomber that prompted the competition for the Advanced Technology Bomber (B-2).
Enterprise Investment to Mature New Technology – Almost 10 years ago Raytheon instituted an enterprise-wide investment in Galiun Nitride technology to increase the efficiency and reliability of TR modules for radar and EW applications. This investment GB advanced the TRL level for productized applications. Additionally, program unique pre-RFP investments in demos to mitigate specific customer identified risks, coupled with the industrial engineering benefits (commonality economies of scale, etc.) of applying TR modules across several programs, was a factor enabling Raytheon to win several major competitions.
Technical innovation GBs in concept designs focused on the driving requirements—whether they be mission capability and/or affordability—will always help enable the new start and enhance the contractor’s chances of winning. Teaming and investment GBs will continue to emerge as winning power plays.
Look for Part II of this series in December 2018, when we will address Game Breakers in three additional categories (two categories involve implementation prior to proposal submittal): Category 3, Winning Technical Solutions; Category 4, Pre-Emptive Pricing; and Category 5, Winning the End Game (actions in the Proposal Evaluation/Source Selection phase).