Better military electronics quotes to defense RFPs

By Steve DeWaters

Long before defense contractors generate request for proposals / quotations (RFP / RFQ) and send RFP / RFQ notices to worthy electronics suppliers and EMS providers for bid solicitations, substantial time and effort are expended in evaluating platform-level opportunities from their customers: typically one of the Armed Services or agencies, a super prime contractor, or even a foreign military opportunity.

Defining subsystem architectures, determining subsystem components and developing strategies for staffing and subcontract resources comprise a few of the complex and expensive steps involved.

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Only after mapping the feasibility of providing a good Concept of Operations (CONOPS) to their end customer, do defense contractors move forward with mapping more granular aspects of creating and managing a specific supply chain for the overall solution.

Developing a formal RFP is a serious investment on the part of defense contractors. It is a big deal to be considered as a potential supplier.

There are substantial teaming and resource allocation elements in play to generate the make / buy decisions; partitioning of sub-systems to create BOMs, identifying and qualifying sources, determining the work breakdown structures, aggregating proper documentation, and creating the statements of work dovetailed to a subcontract’s management strategy.

Keep in mind – all of this occurs just to ready a preliminary RFP.

A carefully chosen roster of like-competitors is then targeted to receive the preliminary RFP and their responses essentially become an initial body of commentary and perspectives to help contract review teams assess the best configurations and final qualifications for the supply chain.

After integrating commentary from the contract review teams, potential suppliers may then receive a second, more formal, RFP and the resulting proposals are then vetted by the contract review teams.


Military technology review panel


At this stage, contract review teams are making final sourcing selections and developing strategies and performing independent cost evaluations and cost roll-ups before any final business lead team and executive reviews take place.

Once the executive team approves the strategy and support plan, a formal bid is submitted back upstream to the originating customer who does their own version of evaluation before a prime contract award is given.

Following the award, the real work begins.

During this intense, upfront work by any contract review team, a subcontract management team was simultaneously designated to negotiate and award subcontracts (as in ‘subordinate’ to the prime contract award) and to initiate supplier management disciplines including: startup logistics; on site team designations, process controls, status and cost, risk management, change management, reporting schedules, performance metrics, and a subcontract life phase scheme including formal contract close out plans.

It is not unusual for the above to include 50 people of varying disciplines on a contract review team managing the supply chain; technical and cost equations, and for the RFP alone to cost upwards of $10 million (or more) to generate.

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On top of this, imagine that at any moment there are at least a dozen contracts being addressed by the defense contractor in a similar manner…

One can easily scale the complexities – and costs – by orders of magnitude. This is serious business where the slightest anomaly can cause havoc.


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Is your RFP D.O.A?
EMS providers / suppliers will have invested significant and costly efforts in fashioning their responses. (See also: So you think you know defense EMS?)

With so much invested on both sides of the transaction, why let your RFP opportunity become D.O.A. once it hits the review teams’ scrutiny? What are some of the pitfalls that make a proposal a potential D.O.A. candidate?

What is borne out by the above is that the defense RFP is not a commercial equivalent. Suppliers wanting to engage the defense sector do themselves a disservice by creating proposals that look more like formal quotes than holistic, thoughtful documents aimed at addressing complex problem solving.

Many EMS provider and various suppliers still use cut-and-paste techniques between different proposals; commercial language instead of defense sector vernacular, assumptions instead of facts, hyperbole in place of concision, disorganized (or hard-to-follow) formats while also misunderstanding or overlooking Federal Acquisition Regulations (FAR) and other key parameters.

In short, things get taken for granted. But, any one of the above characteristics can kill a proposal’s chances of being moved to the next steps. Contract review teams will quickly assess a weak proposal and place it aside.

Meanwhile, competitors are pitted against one another based on their least common denominators of competency.

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Each competing vendor has the chance to define their capabilities; preparedness, savvy, and earnestness in helping the soliciting contractor solve complex problems. Quality of the response is everything.

Contract review teams vet solicitations reduce the field of would-be respondents based largely on first impressions, attention to detail, and ‘proposal navigability’ against the original RFP.

It is the suppliers’ job to make it easy for defense contractors to do business with them.

Take your best shot
Some basic elements found in good proposals include:

  1. A check list that follows every aspect of the original RFP – breaking your proposal into sections; mandates, responsibilities, and where it should be mapped within the final draft; and
  2. A cover letter that essentially provides an executive summary, but also serves as a good ‘first impression’, ties to the rigorous document, maps to the supporting documents, saves the CRT time, shortens the decision process, and reflects well on the supplier; and
  3. Convincing narratives and explanations for each one of the RFP requirements…in short, thoughtful, concise writing backed up by supporting evidence and data.


Your check list also assures that requirements will be assigned and can be used as a compliancy check on the proposal

Also, in developing a good proposal, remember where perspective from the contract review team is coming from. They need to execute huge complexities in parallel with creating a competent supply chain that engenders a sense of trust.

Remember, too, your role as a supplier is to help make it easy for customer teams to do business with you; for you to remove worry from their plate, and to provide substantial convincing evidence that demonstrates their choice in you won’t be wasted.

Expand your provider options

So, the next time you wonder why it takes so long to become a qualified supplier to the defense sector, or why you’ve not yet even received your first RFP, remember the process and the pace contract review teams are going through.

It also does not hurt to have good relations with contracting officers and defense contract audit agency (DCAA) auditors. offers a free service to OEMs. Provider Advisors are available to speak with OEMs. (Its free) Our electronics services referral service can help you expand your provider options. Call toll-free (888) 860-1193 and ask to speak with a Provider Advisor.

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