Defense Acquisitions:

Changes in E-10A Acquisition Strategy Needed before Development Starts

GAO-05-273: Published: Mar 15, 2005. Publicly Released: Mar 15, 2005.

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The Air Force is on the verge of making a major commitment to the multi-billion dollar E-10A Multi-sensor Command and Control Aircraft program. Due to the substantial investment needed and technological challenges in developing the aircraft, the Subcommittee on Tactical Air and Land Forces asked GAO to examine the soundness of the E-10A business case as well as the risks associated with the current acquisition strategy.

As the E-10A Multi-sensor Command and Control Aircraft program nears its official starting point, questions remain regarding critical elements of its business case, including the need for the aircraft, the maturity level of its technology, and its funding. Plans call for the E-10A to couple a new radar system with a sophisticated and software intensive battle management command and control system aboard a Boeing 767. E-10A is planned to fill a current gap in U.S. capabilities and provide a defense against weapons such as cruise missiles. The Office of the Secretary of Defense is still working on a study to determine whether the E-10A program is the most cost-effective way to fill that gap. E-10A program funding plans changed dramatically in December 2004 when the DOD proposed reducing the total program budget by about 45 percent for the next 2 fiscal years. The business case for starting a development program requires demonstrated evidence that (1) the warfighter need exists and that it can best be met with the chosen concept and (2) the concept can be developed and produced within existing resources--including design knowledge, demonstrated technologies, adequate funding, and adequate time to deliver the product. E-10A requirements and resources are still in flux. GAO found risks associated with the current E-10A acquisition strategy that could lead to costly changes later in the program. The program is set to move into production before critical knowledge is acquired. For example, the first fully assembled E-10A, outfitted with its radar and battle management command and control systems, would not be delivered in time to complete testing before the decision is made to begin production. Testing and production are scheduled to start at the same time in 2010. Furthermore, four of six E-10As are scheduled to begin production before the results of testing are available. By not demonstrating that the system can perform as expected before entering production, the program increases the risk of changes and delays later in the program. This strategy requires significant concurrency among the technology development, product development, and production phases.

Status Legend:

More Info
  • Review Pending-GAO has not yet assessed implementation status.
  • Open-Actions to satisfy the intent of the recommendation have not been taken or are being planned, or actions that partially satisfy the intent of the recommendation have been taken.
  • Closed-implemented-Actions that satisfy the intent of the recommendation have been taken.
  • Closed-not implemented-While the intent of the recommendation has not been satisfied, time or circumstances have rendered the recommendation invalid.
    • Review Pending
    • Open
    • Closed - implemented
    • Closed - not implemented

    Recommendations for Executive Action

    Recommendation: Because gaps exist in the information needed to make a sound business case to start a major acquisition program, the Secretary of Defense should ensure that the open business case questions are answered before a decision is made to start the E-10A program.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The Air Force delayed Milestone B on E-10A to 2011 and implemented GAO's knowledge-based strategy recommendations.

    Recommendation: To ensure a greater likelihood of success, if the E-10A program is approved to begin, the Secretary of Defense should direct the Air Force to revise the acquisition strategy to ensure sufficient time is included in the schedule to (1) integrate and demonstrate the design before moving past the critical design review and (2) test a production representative E-10A prototype before starting production.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The Air Force delayed Milestone B on E-10A to 2011 and implemented GAO's knowledge-based strategy recommendations.

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