Missile Defense:

Additional Knowledge Needed in Developing System for Intercepting Long-Range Missiles

GAO-03-600: Published: Aug 21, 2003. Publicly Released: Sep 23, 2003.

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A number of countries hostile to the United States and its allies have or will soon have missiles capable of delivering nuclear, biological, or chemical weapons. To counter this threat, the Department of Defense's (DOD's) Missile Defense Agency (MDA) is developing a system to defeat ballistic missiles. MDA expects to spend $50 billion over the next 5 years to develop and field this system. A significant portion of these funds will be invested in the Ground-based Midcourse Defense (GMD) element. To field elements as soon as practicable, MDA has adopted an acquisition strategy whereby capabilities are upgraded as new technologies become available and is implementing it in 2-year blocks. Given the risks inherent to this strategy, GAO was asked to determine when MDA plans to demonstrate the maturity of technologies critical to the performance of GMD's Block 2004 capability and to identify the estimated costs to develop and field the GMD element and any significant risks with the estimate.

GMD is a sophisticated weapon system being developed to protect the United States against limited attacks by long-range ballistic missiles. It consists of a collection of radars and a weapon component--a three-stage booster and exoatmospheric kill vehicle--integrated by a centralized control system that formulates battle plans and directs the operation of GMD components. Successful performance of these components is dependent on 10 critical technologies. MDA expects to demonstrate the maturity of most of these technologies before fielding the GMD element, which is scheduled to begin in September 2004. However, the agency has accepted higher cost and schedule risks by beginning integration of the element's components before these technologies have matured. So far, MDA has matured two critical GMD technologies. If development and testing progress as planned, MDA expects to demonstrate the maturity of five other technologies by the second quarter of fiscal year 2004. The radar technologies are the least mature. MDA intends to demonstrate the maturity of an upgraded early warning radar in California in the first quarter of fiscal year 2005 and a sea-based radar in the Pacific Ocean in the fourth quarter of that year. Although MDA does not plan to demonstrate the maturity of the technology of the early warning radar in Alaska, which will serve as the primary fire control radar, through its own integrated flight tests, it may be able to do so through the anticipated launch of foreign test missiles. MDA estimates that it will spend about $21.8 billion between 1997 and 2009 to develop the GMD element. This estimate includes $7.8 billion to develop and field the GMD Block 2004 capability. For example, the funds will be used to install interceptors at two sites, upgrade existing radars and testing infrastructure, and develop the sea-based X-band radar. We found that MDA has incurred a greater risk of cost growth because for more than a year the agency was not able to rely fully on data from its primary tool for monitoring whether the GMD contractor has been performing work within cost and on schedule. In February 2002, MDA modified the prime contract to reflect an increased scope of work for developing GMD. It was not until July 2003 that the agency completed a review to ensure that the data was fully reliable.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: DOD concurred with GAO's recommendation and is planning to conduct such a dedicated test of the Cobra Dane radar during the fourth quarter of fiscal year 2005. The test, FT 04-5, involves the air launch of a long-range target that would fly in the field of view of Cobra Dane and will be conducted to certify Cobra Dane operation.

    Recommendation: To increase its confidence that the Ground-base Midcourse Defense element fielded in 2004 will operate as intended, the Secretary of Defense should direct the Director, Missile Defense Agency, to explore its options for demonstrating the upgraded Cobra Dane radar in its new ballistic missile defense role in a real-world environment before September 2004.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

  2. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: The Missile Defense Agency and the Defense Contract Management Agency (DCMA) are jointly determining the feasibility of performing the recommended reviews. However, both agencies believe that DCMA is already validating, at least in part, any new Performance Measurement Baseline (PMB) through its contractor surveillance activities.

    Recommendation: To improve MDA's oversight of the GMD element and to provide the Congress with the best available information for overseeing the program, the Secretary of Defense should direct the Director, Missile Defense Agency, to ensure that when a contractor is authorized to begin new work before a price is negotiated that the Defense Contract Management Agency validate the performance measurement baseline to the extent possible by (1) tracking the movement of budget from the authorized, unpriced work account into the baseline, (2) verify that the work packages accurately reflect the new work directed, and (3) report the results of this effort to MDA.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

  3. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: MDA said that it will continue to adhere to DOD policy and strive to initiate Integrated Baseline Reviews in a timely manner. The agency expects to provide GAO with documentation of those cases where Integrated Baseline Reviews were initiated and completed within 6 months of the issuance of significant contract modifications.

    Recommendation: To improve MDA's oversight of the GMD element and to provide the Congress with the best available information for overseeing the program, the Secretary of Defense should direct the Director, Missile Defense Agency, to strive to initiate and complete an integrated baseline review of any major contract modifications within 6 months.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

 

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