DOD Needs to More Fully Assess Requirements and Establish Operational Units before Fielding New Capabilities
GAO-09-856, Sep 16, 2009
In 2002, the Department of Defense (DOD) began developing and rapidly fielding a global Ballistic Missile Defense System (BMDS) composed of elements that include radars, interceptors, and command and control systems. These elements are envisioned to be linked together to defend against a broad range of ballistic missile threats. In 2009, DOD began a broadly scoped review of missile defense policy and strategy intended to reassess the BMDS and set direction for the future. In response to congressional interest in missile defense requirements and operations, GAO reviewed the extent to which DOD has (1) identified the types and quantities of elements and interceptors it needs and (2) established the units to operate elements that have been put into use. GAO reviewed key analyses, studies, plans, and other documents from the Missile Defense Agency (MDA), the services, combatant commands, and Joint Staff; and interviewed officials from across DOD.
DOD lacks the comprehensive analytic basis needed to make fully informed decisions about the types and quantities of elements and interceptors it needs. Such an analytic basis would include a comprehensive examination of the optimal mix of elements and interceptors needed to meet all of DOD's ballistic missile defense requirements. DOD studies prepared to date were completed for specific purposes, such as addressing regional threats. However, none of the studies have taken a comprehensive approach that addressed the full range of requirements. The Joint Staff conducted studies, for example, to identify the minimum interceptor quantities needed for certain ballistic missile defense elements designed to defend against short-to-intermediate-range threats. Additionally, the combatant commands have analyzed their ballistic missile defense requirements for their specific regions, and the services have studied requirements for specific elements. Without a full assessment of its overall requirements, DOD lacks the information it needs to make the best possible policy, strategy, and budgetary decisions for ballistic missile defense. DOD has faced challenges in fully establishing units to operate five of eight ballistic missile defense elements that have been put into operational use. DOD typically requires that major weapon systems be fielded with a full complement of organized and trained personnel. To rapidly field missile defenses, however, DOD has in some cases put ballistic missile defense elements into operational use before first ensuring that the military services had created units and trained servicemembers to operate them. Three of the eight elements were modifications to existing systems, like the Navy's Aegis ships, so units already existed to operate these modified elements. The five remaining elements--the midcourse defense system designed to defend the United States from long-range threats; the high-altitude, theater missile defense system; a powerful radar placed on a sea-based, movable platform; ground-based radars currently fielded in Japan and Israel; and the command and control system designed to link the BMDS together--were put into use before operational units were fully established. As a result, DOD has faced a number of challenges. For example, the Army faced personnel shortfalls to operate the midcourse defense system. These shortages affected the Army units' ability to support ongoing research and development activities and ultimately resulted in operational readiness concerns. MDA and the military services are taking steps to establish the needed forces, but this may take years for some elements. DOD recognizes the challenges created by putting elements into early use, but has not set criteria requiring that operational units be in place before new elements are made available for use. Looking ahead, several new elements are in development, like the radars and interceptors currently being considered for deployment in Europe, and emerging threats could again cause DOD to press those capabilities into use. Unless fully trained units are in place to support missile defense elements when they are made operational, DOD will continue to face uncertainties and operational risks associated with the elements.
- Review Pending
- Closed - implemented
- Closed - not implemented
Recommendations for Executive Action
Recommendation: To establish the foundation needed to make effective policy, strategy, budgetary, and acquisition decisions, the Secretary of Defense should direct the preparation and periodic updating of a comprehensive analysis of the types and quantities of ballistic missile defense elements and interceptors that are required for performing ballistic missile defense missions worldwide. The analysis should consider the integration of elements; risk assessments of the threat, capabilities and limitations of the BMDS, and redundancy requirements; allied contributions; the employment of elements that can perform multiple types of ballistic missile defense missions and other missions; and any other relevant factors identified by the department.
Agency Affected: Department of Defense
Comments: DOD partially agreed with this recommendation, stating that it would begin developing the key themes and analyses during the then on-going Ballistic Missile Defense Review, which would form a starting point for determining ballistic missile defense requirements and inform results of the the Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR). In turn, DOD added that it will conduct a more detailed assessment of needs and capabilities during each QDR cycle, and update the assessment once in the intervening four years between QDRs. Since we published our report, DOD has taken steps to implement this approach. Published in February 2010, the Ballistic Missile Defense Review laid the groundwork for determining requirements by defining the ballistic missile threat to the United States, deployed forces, and allies; establishing a strategic and policy framework for developing and fielding ballistic missile defenses; prioritizing defenses against regional threats; and laying out a new Phased Adaptive Approach for ballistic missile defenses that includes allied participation. The February 2010 Quadrennial Defense Review also specified general parameters for ballistic missile defense forces through 2015, including 15 Patriot battalions; 7 Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) batteries; and 21 - 32 ballistic missile defense-capable Aegis vessels and "Aegis Ashore" to support the Phased Adaptive Approach. The Joint Staff also completed in 2011 a more detailed assessment of future ballistic missile defense requirements. However, as of July 2011 we have not had the opportunity to review this assessment to determine whether it is sufficient to close out our recommendation as implemented.
Recommendation: To establish the foundation needed to make effective policy, strategy, budgetary, and acquisition decisions, the Secretary of Defense should use this analysis as a foundation for evaluating DOD's ballistic missile defense developmental and acquisition priorities in future budget requests as well as its overall ballistic missile defense policy and strategy direction.
Agency Affected: Department of Defense
Comments: In agreeing to this recommendation, DOD stated that its comprehensive analysis would shape ballistic missile defense developmental and acquisition priorities in future budget requests, and its overall ballistic missile defense policy, strategy, and future deployment options. As of the July 2011, the Joint Staff had prepared a more comprehensive analysis of global ballistic missile defense requirements, but we have not at this point been able to analyze this report to determine any budgetary impacts.
Recommendation: To reduce the potential risks associated with operating ballistic missile defense elements with insufficient force structure, the Secretary of Defense should require, in the absence of an immediate threat or crisis, that operational units be established with the organizations, personnel, and training needed to perform all of their ballistic missile defense responsibilities before first making elements available for operational use.
Agency Affected: Department of Defense
Comments: DOD concurred with this recommendation without comment. In February 2011 DOD stated that it currently requires as part of the routine business of fielding systems that, in the absence of an immediate threat or crisis, operational units be established with the organizations, personnel, and training needed to perform of their ballistic missile defense responsibilities before first making elements available for operational use. We have not been able to corroborate this requirement with documentary evidence, and therefore this recommendation remains open.