A Critical Technology Element (CTE) is a new or novel technology that a platform or system depends on to achieve successful development or production or to successfully meet a system operational threshold requirement. Technology Readiness Levels (TRL) are a method of estimating the technology maturity of CTE of a program during the Acquisition Process. They are determined during a Technology Readiness Assessment (TRA) that examines program concepts, technology requirements, and demonstrated technology capabilities.
Critical Technology Element (CTE) Identification
CTE identification should occur during Materiel Solution Analysis (MSA). The Technology Development Strategy (TDS) should reflect the result of a process sufficiently thorough and disciplined to identify those technologies (including CTEs) that have a realistic potential to be improved in the Technology Development (TD) phase and exploited in the Engineering, Manufacturing, and Development (EMD) phase. An early evaluation of technology maturity, conducted shortly before Milestone A, provides further insight into CTE identification. Failure to recognize the potential CTEs at this stage will result in a waste of resources—time, money, facilities, and so forth—and could result in an unfavorable Milestone B decision. 
An Analysis of Alternatives (AoA) also assesses CTE associated with proposed materiel solution; including technology maturity, integration risk, manufacturing feasibility, and, where necessary, technology maturation and demonstration needs.
Appendix B of the Technology Readiness Assessment Deskbook provides guidance and best practices for identifying Critical Technology Elements (CTEs)
- There’re different definitions of Technology Readiness Levels, so make sure you follow the one that’s specific to your program or R&D project when evaluating CTEs.
AcqLinks and References:
-  Technology Readiness Assessment Deskbook – Appendix B
- Defense Acquisition Guidebook (DAG)
- Technology Readiness Assessment Calculator
- Technology Readiness Assessment Instructions
- Technology Readiness Level Cheat Sheet