Military Readiness:

DOD Needs to Better Manage Automatic Test Equipment Modernization

GAO-03-451: Published: Mar 31, 2003. Publicly Released: Apr 11, 2003.

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The services have billions of dollars worth of outdated and obsolete automatic test equipment (ATE) used to test components on military aircraft or weapon systems. Department of Defense (DOD) policy advocates the development and acquisition of test equipment that can be used on multiple types of weapon systems and aircraft and used interchangeably between the services. At the request of the Subcommittee's Chairman, GAO examined the problems that the Air Force, Navy, and Marine Corps are facing with this aging equipment and their efforts to comply with DOD policy.

DOD and the services face growing concerns regarding obsolete automatic test equipment, given the high costs of modernizing or replacing it and its potential effect on aircraft readiness. The Navy and Air Force, for example, estimate that they will spend billions of dollars to modernize or replace this equipment, much of which was acquired in the 1970s and 1980s. In the meantime, the aging testers are becoming increasingly out of date and more difficult to support. When the testers do not work properly, maintenance can suffer and readiness can be adversely affected. Since 1994, DOD policy has advocated the acquisition of test equipment that can be used on multiple weapon systems and aircraft and can be used interchangeably between the services; progress in this regard has been slow. For example, although the Navy set out in 1991 to replace 25 major tester types with one standard tester by 2000, budget cuts and delays in developing software have resulted in delays in completing the replacement of these obsolete testers until 2008. The Air Force has only recently initiated a test equipment modernization plan. However, little evidence suggests that consideration is being given to the acquisition of equipment that would have common utility for more than one weapon system as DOD policy advocates. For procurement of new weapon systems, the Air Force is giving little consideration to the use of a common tester, while a common tester is planned for use as the primary tester for the Joint Strike Fighter. Although DOD tasked the Navy as its Executive Agent for automatic test equipment in 1994, the agent has made only limited progress in achieving compliance across all the services with DOD policy advocating the development of common systems. While the Executive Agent can point to some successes in individual systems, its officials acknowledged that the organization does not have sufficient authority or resources to fully implement the policy and achieve the maximum commonality possible.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: On February 2, 2004, the Assistant Deputy Under Secretary of Defense (Logistics Plans and Programs) stated that the actions of the Executive Agent will be implemented under a Joint Services Automatic Test Systems Management Board (AMB). In July 2004 a draft Joint Memorandum of Agreement among the Service Acquisition Executive was prepared and USD (AT&L) issued an over-arching AT&L policy memorandum on July 28, 2004. In November 2004, DOD reported that the joint Memorandum of Agreement among the Service Acquisition Executives was signed.

    Recommendation: Wherever the Executive Agent is placed organizationally, the Secretary of Defense should give it authority and resources to direct the services to draw up modernization plans for its review so it can identify opportunities to maximize commonality and technology sharing between and within the services.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: On February 2, 2004, the Assistant Deputy Under Secretary of Defense (Logistics Plans and Programs) stated that the actions of the Executive Agent will be implemented under a Joint Services Automatic Test Systems Management Board (AMB). In July 2004 a draft Joint Memorandum of Agreement among the Service Acquisition Executive was prepared and USD (AT&L) issued an over-arching AT&L policy memorandum on July 28, 2004. In November 2004, DOD reported that the joint Memorandum of Agreement among the Service Acquisition Executives was signed.

    Recommendation: Wherever the Executive Agent is placed organizationally, the Secretary of Defense should give it authority and resources to establish a mechanism to ensure that all ATE acquisitions and modernizations are identified in an early enough stage to be able to provide a comprehensive look at commonality and interoperability and to ensure a coordinated effort between service entities.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

  3. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: On February 2, 2004, the Assistant Deputy Under Secretary of Defense (Logistics Plans and Programs) stated that the actions of the Executive Agent will be implemented under a Joint Services Automatic Test Systems Management Board (AMB). In July 2004 a draft Joint Memorandum of Agreement among the Service Acquisition Executive was prepared and USD (AT&L) issued an over-arching AT&L policy memorandum on July 28, 2004. In November 2004, DOD reported that the joint Memorandum of Agreement among the Service Acquisition Executives was signed.

    Recommendation: Wherever the Executive Agent is placed organizationally, the Secretary of Defense should give it authority and resources to include representatives from all of the services, with a scope to include the oversight of ATE acquisition and modifications for all weapon systems.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

  4. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The Joint Service ATS EA Assessment Team completed it's review. The Navy will discontinue its role as the DOD Automatic Test Systems Executive Agent. The functions will continue under the Joint Services Automatic Test Systems Management Board (AMB). It was requested that NAVAIR PMA260, which served previously as the ATS Executive Agent's Office, be directed to continue the same functions as the Executive Directorate for the AMB

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Defense should reconsider whether placing its Executive Agent for ATE in the Navy--or any single service--is the most effective way to implement the policy.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

  5. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: On July 28, 2004, the Undersecretary of Defense (AT&L) issued a policy memo requiring Program Managers to use approved DOD ATS families as the preferred choice to satisfy automatic testing support requirements.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Defense should reemphasize the policy that common ATE be developed to the maximum extent possible.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

  6. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: On February 2, 2004, the Assistant Deputy Under Secretary of Defense (Logistics Plans and Programs) stated that the actions of the Executive Agent will be implemented under a Joint Services Automatic Test Systems Management Board (AMB). In July 2004 a draft Joint Memorandum of Agreement among the Service Acquisition Executive was prepared and USD (AT&L) issued an over-arching AT&L policy memorandum on July 28, 2004. In November 2004, DOD reported that the joint Memorandum of Agreement among the Service Acquisition Executives was signed.

    Recommendation: Wherever the Executive Agent is placed organizationally, the Secretary of Defense should give it authority and resources to continue efforts to research technical issues dealing with tester commonality such as the development of open system architecture and other joint service applications.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

 

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