Defense Acquisitions:

Challenges Remain in Developing Capabilities for Naval Surface Fire Support

GAO-07-115: Published: Nov 30, 2006. Publicly Released: Nov 30, 2006.

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Since the mid-1990s, the Navy and Marine Corps have studied ways to better protect landing forces. As new operational concepts evolved, the Marine Corps identified requirements for naval surface fire support and the Navy began developing two systems to meet these needs--the Extended Range Munition for existing classes of ships and the future Zumwalt class destroyer. GAO was asked to address (1) whether requirements for fire support have been established and (2) the Navy's progress on the Extended Range Munition, Zumwalt class destroyer, and follow-on systems. GAO also analyzed whether these Navy systems fulfill the requirements and whether gaps remain. To address these objectives GAO analyzed key documents on requirements and programs and held discussions with officials from the Navy and Marine Corps as well as other interested organizations.

In December 2005, more than a decade after the Navy and Marine Corps began to formulate requirements, agreement was reached on the capabilities needed for naval surface fire support. However, quantifiable measures are still lacking for volume of fire--the delivery of a large quantity of munitions simultaneously or over a period of time to suppress or destroy a target. Until further quantifiable requirements are set for volume of fire, it is difficult to assess whether additional investment is necessary or the form it should take. The Navy's Extended Range Munition and Zumwalt class destroyer have cost more, taken longer to develop and field than anticipated, and will deliver fewer capabilities than originally promised. Largely due to technical challenges, the Extended Range Munition is expected to exceed the original cost estimate for development by 550 percent, and the Navy has delayed delivery of initial capability by 11 years. The munition's path for development and fielding remains uncertain as key technologies and munition design have not been adequately demonstrated. The Office of the Secretary of Defense recently assumed oversight of the program, and while a comprehensive review has not yet been held, there are ongoing studies that could assist such a review. The Navy has reduced Zumwalt class land attack munitions by 50 percent and cut ship quantities from 32 to 7. The primary reason for reduced capabilities are cost pressures created by the Navy's original concept of revolutionary performance at an unrealistically low cost. The Navy plans to begin construction of the first two ships in the Zumwalt class in fiscal year 2008. The recent study of future fire support needs approved by the Joint Requirements Oversight Council identifies four capability gaps: command and control of fire support; engaging moving targets in poor weather; engaging targets when collateral damage is a concern; and engaging targets that require a large volume of fire. The analysis that forms the basis of the joint study contends that while the Extended Range Munition and Zumwalt class destroyer offer significant capabilities in some scenarios, they do not provide enough capability to meet all fire support needs. The Navy, through its surface warfare directorate, has begun analyzing the three engagement gaps, but the Navy has not chosen an organization to analyze the gap in command and control, which is essential for target assignment and information. Any attempts to accept the risks or invest in programs to fill remaining gaps should also involve the expeditionary warfare directorate as the Marine Corps representative. The expeditionary warfare directorate does not have a formal role in developing requirements, determining capabilities, and managing resources for systems that provide naval surface fire support.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In response to our recommendation in GAO-07-115, a series of reviews by the Under Secretary of Defense (Acquisition, Technology & Logistics)for the Extended Range Munition (ERM) program were planned to revisit program documentation, such as the Acquisition Strategy and Acquisition Program Baseline, and to review the performance of the system after test events. As the result of a review held in July 2008 the ERM program was canceled due to high developmental risk as indicated by multiple test failures. All funding for future development and production of ERM was canceled resulting in a program reduction of $1,113 million (Then Year $).

    Recommendation: To improve the Department's efforts to address naval surface fire support needs and in light of the changes to the schedule, budget requirements, and design of the Extended Range Munition program, the Secretary of Defense should direct the Undersecretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology & Logistics, as the program's milestone decision authority, conduct a comprehensive review of the program to validate progress and acquisition plans that will incorporate results from current and planned program studies and direct changes as necessary.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The Navy has taken actions to meet our recommendation in GAO-07-115 on ensuring that naval surface fire support systems meet the needs of the warfighter by providing the Navy's Expeditionary Warfare Division with a more formal role in development of naval surface fire support programs. The Navy reviewed roles and guidance for its Warfare Divisions and on August 22, 2008 released updated guidance which states that, in addition to developing requirements and capabilities for naval surface fire support, one mission of the Expeditionary Warfare Division is to advise the Navy on naval surface fire support programs. This should help ensure that these systems are aligned with the appropriate requirements.

    Recommendation: To improve the Department's efforts to address naval surface fire support needs and in order to ensure that the systems providing naval surface fire support are aligned with the requirements and operating concepts of the forces they assist, the Secretary of Defense should direct the Navy to provide the Chief of Naval Operations's Expeditionary Warfare Division, as the division charged with establishing capabilities and requirements for naval surface fire support and liaison to the Marine Corps, a formal role in developing requirements, determining capabilities, and managing resources for Navy systems responsible for providing naval surface fire support.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

  3. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: In GAO-07-115, we recommended that DOD direct the Navy and Marine Corps to better define requirements and operational concepts for the use of volume fires and DOD concurred with the recommendation. In November 2009, the services completed a joint expeditionary fires analysis of alternatives (AOA) which included evaluation of gaps in joint naval surface fire support and required volume effects. The AOA also included some measures of effectiveness for volume fires that were used to evaluate naval surface fire support (NSFS) solutions, however, Marine Corps and Navy officials state that there has been no formal agreement on metrics or definitions for volume of fires for use outside of the AOA. In addition, neither the AOA nor the metrics it used for volume of fires have been used to support further investments on material solutions for NSFS.

    Recommendation: To improve the Department's efforts to address naval surface fire support needs and to determine the desired effects for volume of fire, the Secretary of Defense should direct the Navy and Marine Corps to define quantitative requirements and operational concepts on use of volume fires, especially when using precision weapons for suppression or simultaneous strikes. This analysis should be used to 1) inform and update the non-nuclear ordnance requirements process used to determine procurement objectives for these munitions and 2) clarify the capability gap for volume fires as identified in the Initial Capabilities Document for Joint Fires in Support of Expeditionary Operations in the Littorals.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

  4. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: At the time of our report, GAO-07-115, the Navy planned to complete an analysis of alternatives (AOA) on systems to close a number of gaps in naval surface fire support. We recommended that the Navy designate an appropriate organization for the AOA of command and control systems to ensure coordination between fire control systems and weapon platforms. Although the Navy did not fund and complete an analysis of alternatives for command and control for naval surface fire support of joint operations in the littorals, the Department intends to mitigate the gap in command and control through other means. The Under Secretary of Defense for Intelligence was designated as the appropriate party to coordinate this effort and, working with the office of the Chief of Naval Operations for Communication Networks (N6), designated a number of systems as suitable for coordination of joint fires. According to the Office of the Secretary of Defense (OSD) this could include the use of Global Command and Control, Network Enabled Command and Control, and the Distributed Common Ground/Surface System. John Christian of OSD stated that these systems have been approved for use in naval surface fire support applications by the Program Analysis and Evaluation branch of the Office of the Secretary of Defense.

    Recommendation: To improve the Department's efforts to address naval surface fire support needs and given the importance of command and control in coordinating fire support, especially in the complex environment imposed by joint operations in the littorals, the Secretary of Defense should direct the Navy to designate the appropriate organization for managing an analysis of alternatives related to this gap and ensure that the results of this analysis are coordinated with solutions for identified engagement gaps.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

 

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