Missile Defense:

DOD's Report Provides Limited Insight on Improvements to Homeland Missile Defense and Acquisition Plans

GAO-14-626R: Published: Jul 17, 2014. Publicly Released: Jul 17, 2014.

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Cristina T. Chaplain
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chaplainc@gao.gov

 

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What GAO Found

The Department of Defense (DOD) was directed to report to the congressional defense committees on the status of efforts to improve the homeland ballistic missile defense capability of the United States and a description of the results of two planned flight tests. The Missile Defense Agency (MDA) is developing the Ground-based Midcourse Defense (GMD) system to defend the United States against a limited intermediate and intercontinental ballistic missile attack from nations such as North Korea and Iran. The Department of Defense (DOD) was directed to report to the congressional defense committees on the status of efforts to improve the homeland ballistic missile defense capability of the United States and a description of the results of two planned flight tests. The Missile Defense Agency (MDA) is developing the Ground-based Midcourse Defense (GMD) system 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 described actions taken and plans to improve homeland missile defense and was generally responsive to the mandate, but it did not detail the effectiveness of actions taken or expected benefits of future plans on the GMD system. Without an understanding of the effectiveness of MDA's recent actions and plans related to GMD, Congress may not have the information it needs when making difficult choices on where to spend limited funds. For example, the report stated that MDA upgraded the software of the entire fleet of GMD interceptors to improve their operational performance, but it did not describe the effectiveness of these improvements or whether these improvements have been confirmed to work as intended in flight tests. In addition, certain GMD improvement efforts described in DOD's report are high risk because they include concurrent manufacturing and testing, which puts DOD at risk for cost growth, schedule delays, and performance shortfalls if it discovers problems after MDA's begins manufacturing the interceptors. GAO previously recommended in March 2009 that MDA take actions to reduce concurrent manufacturing and testing. While DOD partially concurred with this recommendation, we concluded that it has not yet been fully implemented.

DOD did not explain in its report that a key flight test had been delayed nor did it provide the reasons for that delay. DOD was unable to describe the results of one of the flight tests because that test had yet to be conducted due to challenges resolving the prior test failure. However, while this report was at DOD for comment, MDA conducted this test on June 22, 2014. While initial test reports indicate that the CE-II interceptor hit the target, analysis is ongoing. DOD's report did not include an explanation of these development challenges, which limits the report's usefulness because it provides no explanation to Congress on the issues that have delayed the flight test.

Why GAO Did This Study

Section 228 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 the status of efforts to improve the homeland ballistic missile defense capability of the United States and a description of the results of two planned flight tests. Additionally, GAO was required to brief the congressional defense committees on its views of DOD's report and submit a report as soon as practicable. We offered briefings to all the congressional defense committees and briefed the Senate and House Armed Services Committees in April 2014. GAO assessed: (1) the extent to which DOD's report addressed actions taken or planned to improve the reliability of the GMD system, and (2) the extent to which DOD's report described the results of two flight tests required to restart interceptor production by demonstrating the successful correction to the problem that caused the December 2010 flight test failure.

To determine the extent to which the DOD report identified actions taken or plans to improve GMD, GAO assessed the actions and plans described in DOD's report and compared them to GMD development efforts. GAO also examined past DOD reports to Congress on various Ballistic Missile Defense efforts and GMD program execution reports to identify program actions and plans. Additionally, GAO assessed available program plans such as their Stockpile Reliability Program Plan. GAO also reviewed DOD's report for test plans and results and then compared it to assessments in other DOD and GAO reports. GAO interviewed contractors and DOD officials from MDA, Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Policy, combatant commands, and testing agencies.

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

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