Illustrating the Concept of Operations (CONOPs) Continuum and its Relationship to the Acquisition Lifecycle

Keywords Illustrating the Concept of Operations Continuum and its Relationship to the Acquisition Lifecycle
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Under-Utilization of the CONOPs Despite its value, the CONOPs, at least in its full form, is not consistently used in system development. In fact, a recent survey showed that 1/3 of all programs queried did not have a CONOPs (Roberts, 2008, p., 39). Similarly, in a series of interviews and surveys conducted for this research, the majority of respondents indicated that a CONOPs was “critical” to the system’s success, but was under-utilized. Comparable studies on CONOPs have pointed out that even when a CONOPs is written it is often after the system is developed and done so in an effort to satisfy a Milestone Decision requirement; this “box-checking” activity strips the CONOPs of its intended role in the creative process (Nelson, 2007, p. 5-6). Our survey results appear to support this, with our respondents indicating that a concept for how the system will be employed is usually written, but it is written after the system is developed. This means the CONOPs is based on the requirements as opposed to the requirements being based on the CONOPs. Similarly, in the Roberts survey, 18% of respondents said that CONOPs on programs they worked “were not
completed until after the requirements were complete” (Roberts, 2008, p.28). With the CONOPs document seen as critical to defining and employing a proposed system, why is it that the CONOPs is often missing or developed as an afterthought?

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technical report
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Though consistently noted as critical to successful system design and implementation, the Concept of Operations (CONOPs) artifact appears to be underutilized. This report demystifies the CONOPs artifact. It delves into the barriers that prevent optimal use of CONOPs and presents a framework for incorporating an “integrated” CONOPs into the Defense Acquisition Lifecycle.


The ability of development programs to avoid challenges associated with schedule, budget, and technical performance has been consistently poor (Turner, Verma, & Weitekamp, 2009, pg 7). A recent FAA sponsored study noted that in order to avoid these pitfalls, “one of the most significant artifacts is the creation of a CONOPs” (Turner et. al., 2009, pg 27). The report further
noted the need to have “alignment between the evolving CONOPs, the [Enterprise Architecture]1, and the governance system…” (Turner et. al., 2009, p 32). The Manual for the Operation of The Joint Capabilities Integration and Development System (JCIDS, 2009) provides an illustration of the alignment of the enterprise architecture and the governance system by connecting JCIDS activities with milestone decisions. While important, this illustration is missing the alignment of a critical system success component, the CONOPs document. In order to encourage successful system development and acquisition we must understand the context of the CONOPs as it relates to the larger total acquisition lifecycle.

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