Missile Defense:

DOD's Report Provides Limited Insight on Testing Options for the Ground-based Midcourse Defense System

GAO-14-350R: Published: Apr 30, 2014. Publicly Released: Apr 30, 2014.

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Contact:

Cristina T. Chaplain
(202) 512-4841
chaplainc@gao.gov

 

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What GAO Found

DOD was directed to report to the congressional defense committees on the Ground-based Midcourse Defense (GMD) system's test program, including: an explanation of testing options if planned tests do not demonstrate the successful correction to a problem that caused a flight test failure in December 2010; and an assessment of the feasibility, advisability, and cost effectiveness of accelerating GMD's flight testing pace. The GMD is a missile defense system designed to defend the United States against a limited intermediate and intercontinental ballistic missile attack from nations such as North Korea and Iran.

DOD's report included the development of one option to mitigate the vibration problem that was determined to be the root cause of the December 2010 GMD flight test failure. However, the report included few details on how or when this option would be developed and tested. For example, it included few details about its (1) development and testing strategy, (2) cost, schedule, benefits, and risks, and (3) impact on new production and fielded ground-based interceptors. GAO requested additional information from DOD but DOD did not provide the requested information in time to assess the development and testing plans for this option. In addition, DOD experienced a setback in July 2013 when an already fielded version of the GMD interceptor failed a flight test. As a result, DOD's testing options using that GMD fielded interceptor were limited. GAO believes that until DOD completes its ongoing failure review and determines the root cause, developing additional testing options using the GMD fielded interceptor would be premature.

DOD's report also provided decision makers with limited insight into the feasibility and no insight into the cost effectiveness of accelerating GMD's testing pace. DOD's report did not provide a complete assessment as to whether it is feasible to increase GMD's testing pace--limiting the report's usefulness for decision makers. In addition, although DOD's report included some basic cost information, it did not provide decision makers with an assessment of whether increasing GMD's testing pace could be cost effective. The report provided insufficient information to assess whether accelerating GMD's testing pace is prudent because it did not address the potential full cost, benefits, and risks of testing acceleration.

Why GAO Did This Study

Section 231 of the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2013 required the Secretary of Defense to submit to the congressional defense committees a report on GMD's test program that included information, such as test options and an assessment of the feasibility, advisability, and cost effectiveness of accelerating GMD's testing pace. In addition, GAO was required to brief the congressional defense committees on its views of DOD's report and submit a written report as soon as practicable after the briefing. GAO assessed: (1) the extent to which DOD's report identified testing options and known risks of the GMD system, and (2) the extent to which DOD's report assessed the feasibility and cost effectiveness of accelerating GMD flight testing.

To conduct this work, GAO reviewed DOD's report for testing options if flight testing does not demonstrate the successful correction to the problem that caused a GMD flight test failure in December 2010. GAO compared information in DOD's report to a generally accepted definition of the term feasible and guidance on the elements of a cost effectiveness assessment to determine whether DOD's report contained an assessment on the feasibility and cost effectiveness to accelerate GMD's testing pace. GAO also interviewed DOD officials from Missile Defense Agency and the Office of the Director, Operational Test and Evaluation.

For information, contact Cristina Chaplain at (202) 512-4841 or chaplainc@gao.gov.

 

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