Satellite Control Systems:

Opportunity for DOD to Implement Space Policy and Integrate Capabilities

NSIAD-99-81: Published: May 17, 1999. Publicly Released: May 17, 1999.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO: (1) reviewed the Department of Defense's (DOD) progress in integrating and improving its satellite control capabilities and in fostering integrated and interoperable satellite control within the government, as directed by the 1996 national space policy; and (2) determined whether opportunities exist for DOD to standardize its satellite control capabilities by using commercial products and practices.

GAO noted that: (1) DOD has made minimal progress in integrating and improving its satellite control capabilities in accordance with 1996 national space policy; (2) in 1992, DOD identified a need for an integrated satellite control system to achieve standardization and interoperability across military services and individual satellite programs; (3) in 1995, the Air Force, which controls most of DOD's satellites, characterized its satellite control capabilities as aging, inefficient, and costly to operate; (4) the Air Force initiated an effort to standardize these capabilities and achieve full implementation in 2003--a first step toward an integrated and interoperable DOD capability; (5) Air Force officials chose to proceed with a conceptual design over operational alternatives; (6) however, in 1997, the Air Force terminated this effort because of schedule delays resulting from software development problems and the additional amount of software that needed to be written; (7) Air Force Space Command representatives are now recommending that the use of the Air Force's existing satellite control capabilities be extended to 2005 to provide time to acquire an improved capability; (8) until then, the Air Force will be unable to reduce approximately $400 million it spends annually to operate, maintain, sustain, and modernize satellite control capabilities; (9) the Navy's satellite control capabilities are not as old, inefficient, or costly to operate as the Air Force's capabilities; (10) although the Navy upgraded its capabilities in the early 1990s, another upgrade is planned because the company that provided the existing capabilities no longer provides software support services; (11) DOD has taken limited action to foster integrated and interoperable satellite control for all government space activities since it was directed to do so by the 1996 national space policy; (12) although DOD established a senior steering group in 1998 to address national security space management and integration issues, government space agencies continue to plan for satellite control capabilities on an independent basis rather than coordinate and integrate their efforts on an interagency basis; and (13) considering the long-standing need to replace the Air Force's aging and costly satellite control capabilities and the Navy's more recent plan to upgrade its capabilities, DOD has an opportunity to revitalize its effort to achieve integrated satellite control by acquiring a standardized capability.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: DOD has been actively pursuing COTS solutions for satellite control since July 1999. For example, the integrated satellite control system planned for military satellite communications utilizes COTS Integrated Systems. Also, the Space and Telemetery Missile Systems Center Test and Evaluation Directorate employs an open architecture.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Defense should direct the Secretaries of the Air Force and the Navy to: (1) consolidate their plans to replace existing Air Force and Navy satellite control capabilities; and (2) consider using commercial off-the-shelf satellite control products and best commercial practices in making a selection among alternative systems to satisfy core satellite control requirements, thus limiting the need for unique capabilities.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: DOD agreed with the recommendation by stating that significant actions have already been undertaken (1999) by implementing revised procedures for management of national security (defense and intelligence) space programs and activities, as directed by a Presidential Decision Directive, including the establishment of a National Security Space Senior Steering Group. This Group, according to DOD, appears to be the forum to accomplish GAO's recommendation because all national security and civil agencies are to be invited as members in the Group's deliberations.

    Recommendation: In consonance with the development of DOD's plans to replace its satellite control capabilities, the Secretary of Defense should take the lead in ensuring that the National Security Space Senior Steering Group serves as the forum for fostering and overseeing the integration and interoperability of satellite control for all government space activities in accordance with 1996 national space policy guidelines.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

  3. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: In July 1999, DOD stated that there are a number of high quality products to fly satellites that have been demonstrated, and are being used to fly R&D and non-operational defense satellite communications system and Defense support program satellites. DOD is committed to using commercial vendors.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Defense should direct the Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition and Technology; the Under Secretary of Defense (Controller/Chief Financial Officer); and the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Command, Control, Communications, and Intelligence to only consider funding requests for such replacement efforts that make maximum use of commercial products and practices to achieve integrated satellite control capabilities within DOD.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

 

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