Telecommunications:

DOD is Making Progress in Adopting Best Practices for the Transformational Satellite Communications System and Space Radar but Still Faces Challenges

GAO-07-1029R: Published: Aug 2, 2007. Publicly Released: Aug 2, 2007.

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The Department of Defense (DOD) is working to achieve information superiority over adversaries and share information seamlessly among disparate weapons systems. Two programs envisioned as a part of this effort are Transformational Satellite Communications System (TSAT) and Space Radar. TSAT is designed to provide rapid worldwide secure communications with air and space systems--including Space Radar--through radio frequency and laser communications links. Space Radar is expected to provide global all-weather intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance, particularly in denied areas, for military, national intelligence, and civil users. Both TSAT and Space Radar will require major software development efforts and employ a significant number of experienced staff. TSAT and Space Radar development efforts are expected to be among the most costly space systems ever developed by DOD. In 2004, TSAT was estimated to have a total life cycle cost of about $16 billion, of which $2.0 billion will have been spent at the end of fiscal year 2007. Space Radar is estimated to have a total life cycle cost from $20 billion to $25 billion, and the program has spent about approximately $464.5 million. TSAT expects to begin product development in fiscal year 2008, and launch the first satellite in the first quarter of fiscal year 2016. Space Radar expects to begin product development in fiscal year 2009 and launch the first satellite in third quarter of fiscal year 2016. The systems are also expected to be among the most complex ever developed, largely because of the challenges associated with integrating critical technologies within the satellites and networking the satellites to other platforms. Congress requested that GAO assess DOD's progress in adopting best practice as both of these programs proceed toward product development. We presented our findings on TSAT and Space Radar in briefings to Congressional staffs in March 2007. This letter summarizes our findings, conclusions, and recommendations.

DOD is making efforts to instill best practices on TSAT and Space Radar. These practices, as GAO has identified over the past decade, are to separate technology discovery from acquisition, follow an incremental path toward meeting user needs, match resources and requirements at program start, and use quantifiable data to make decisions to move to next phases. Collectively, these practices ensure a high level of knowledge is achieved at key junctures in development and that a program does not go forward unless a strong business case on which the program was originally justified continues to hold true. TSAT and Space Radar have made progress in the maturation of technologies, but challenges remain. In a June 2007 update, DOD determined that six of the seven critical technologies for TSAT are at a technology readiness level (TRL) 6 (meaning the technology has been tested in a relevant environment), and the program expects to have the remaining technology at a TRL 6 prior to the preliminary design phase. Space Radar expects to have almost all critical technologies mature to a TRL 6 by program start in June 2009. However, the program currently has five critical technologies assessed to be TRL 3 to TRL 4. This signifies that DOD will need to gain significant knowledge on these technologies to gain sufficient insight into costs and schedule to be well positioned for success by program start. Both programs have deferred more ambitious technology development efforts to the science and technology environment. Both programs have also strived to employ best practices to help identify and determine achievability of requirements. Until all requirements are defined, vetted, and validated, the program office could still face challenges in closing potential gaps between requirements and resources. Both programs face long-term challenges for funding. As DOD seeks to fund Space Radar and TSAT, it will be (1) undertaking other new, costly efforts, including the Global Positioning System III, the Space Based Surveillance System, and the Alternative Infrared Satellite System; (2) addressing cost overruns associated with legacy programs; and (3) facing increased pressures to ramp up investments in assets designed to protect space systems. In total, these efforts will increase DOD's investment for all major space acquisitions from $6.31 billion to $9.22 billion, or about 46 percent over the next 3 years. Schedules for both programs may also be optimistic. The TSAT program may have underestimated the time for design, integration, and production activities. The Space Radar schedule is shorter between program start and initial launch capability than what DOD has achieved for other complex satellite systems. The Space Radar acquisition timeframe from program start to initial launch capability is 86 months, which our analysis shows is shorter than what DOD has achieved or estimated for other complex satellite systems. TSAT also faces further challenges in meeting workforce personnel requirements to manage and oversee the program in the future. Continued efforts by the programs to instill best practices on TSAT and Space Radar are good steps toward addressing acquisition problems, representing significant shifts in thinking about how space systems should be developed. While these steps can help better position these programs for success, they will not work without adhering to commitments to delay milestone decisions or make trade-offs if there are still gaps between requirements and resources. DOD space program and senior officials recognize this and have expressed a commitment to delay program milestones in order to provide the time needed to match resources to requirements, if necessary. However, DOD has not addressed funding pressures that have encouraged premature program starts and too much optimism for past satellite development efforts.

Recommendation for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: Over the years, GAO has recommended numerous actions that can be taken to address problems identified with the Transformational Satellite Communications System (TSAT) and Space Radar-two of DOD's most costly programs-envisioned to achieve information superiority over adversaries and share information seamlessly across disparate weapons systems. Generally, GAO has recommended that DOD's programs ensure technologies work as intended, match resources and requirements at program start, and use quantifiable data and demonstrate knowledge to make decision to move to next phases. Both TSAT and Space Radar have been taking actions to identify potential gaps between requirements and resources before approving the start of product development to ensure they can meet their cost and schedule goals. Specifically, in 2007, DOD approved updates to the TSAT capabilities document and validated key performance. Finally, a recent TSAT investment study directed by the Office of the Secretary of Defense identified potential gaps between requirements and resources, and identified alternatives for DOD Space Radar has also adopted some best practices and has identified potential gaps between requirements and resources before approving the start of product development to ensure they can meet their cost and schedule goals.

    Recommendation: To ensure that TSAT and Space Radar do not succumb to funding pressures within DOD, the Secretary of Defense should direct the Under Secretary of the Air Force to identify potential gaps between requirements and resources before approving the start of product development and, if necessary, adjust requirements and resources to increase the likelihood of achieving program cost, schedule, and performance goals.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

 

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