Complex system acquisition and its associated technology development have a troubled recent history. The modern acquisition timeline consists of conceptual, preliminary, and detailed design followed by system test and production. The evolving nature of the estimates of system performance, cost, and schedule during this extended process may be a significant contribution to recent issues. The recently proposed multistage reliability-based design optimization (MSRBDO) method promises improvements over reliability-based design optimization (RBDO) in achieved objective function value. In addition, its problem formulation more closely resembles the evolutionary nature of epistemic design uncertainties inherent in system design during early system acquisition. Our goal is to establish the modeling basis necessary for applying this new method to the engineering of early conceptual/preliminary design. We present corrections in the derivation and solutions to the single numerical example problem published by the original authors, Nam and Mavris, and examine the error introduced under the reduced-order reliability sampling used in the original publication. MSRBDO improvements over the RBDO solution of 10–36% for the objective function after first-stage optimization are shown for the original second-stage example problem. A larger 26–40% improvement over the RBDO solution is shown when an alternative comparison method is used than in the original. The specific implications of extending the method to arbitrary m-stage problems are presented, together with a solution for a three-stage numerical example. Several approaches are demonstrated to mitigate the computational cost increase of MSRBDO over RBDO, resulting in a net decrease in calculation time of 94% from an initial MSRBDO baseline algorithm.

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