Missile Defense:

Actions Being Taken to Address Testing Recommendations, but Updated Assessment Needed

GAO-04-254: Published: Feb 26, 2004. Publicly Released: Mar 11, 2004.

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In August 2000, the Defense Department's (DOD) Director, Operational Test and Evaluation (DOT&E), made 50 recommendations on a test program for a system to defeat long-range ballistic missile threats against the United States. DOD's Missile Defense Agency (MDA) plans to begin fielding the system by September 2004. GAO examined (1) how MDA addressed DOT&E's recommendations and (2) what is known about the effectiveness of the system to be fielded by September 2004. GAO issued a classified report on this subject in June 2003. This unclassified, updated version reflects changes in MDA's test schedule.

MDA is addressing most of DOT&E's recommendations on flight testing but will not complete many actions before September 2004. For example, DOT&E recommended removing flight test range limitations by adding more intercept regions and launch locations to add greater realism to its tests. MDA is expanding the test range infrastructure to add five intercept regions and target and interceptor launches out of new locations. By September 2004, one of the regions will be tested. MDA is generally not addressing DOT&E's proposals on ground testing. For example, although MDA had begun upgrading a ground facility to provide a realistic testing environment for the interceptor, MDA deferred testing at the facility to fund other priorities. Finally, MDA is addressing DOT&E's recommendations on discrimination--the system's ability to find an enemy warhead among decoys--by funding analysis programs. Predictions of how well the system will defeat long-range ballistic missiles are based on limited data. No component of the system to be fielded by September 2004 has been flight-tested in its deployed configuration. Significant uncertainties surround the capability to be fielded by September: MDA will not demonstrate in flight tests a critical radar called Cobra Dane before that date or conduct a system-level demonstration, and has yet to test its three-stage boosters as part of a planned intercept.

Recommendation for Executive Action

  1. Status: Open

    Comments: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.

    Recommendation: As a means of providing decision makers with critical information when investments in missile defense are considered, the Director, Operational Test and Evaluation (DOT&E) should report periodically, as it deems appropriate, on the status of the Missile Defense Agency's (MDA) actions taken or planned in response to the August 2000 recommendations. In its review, DOT&E should include information and recommendations, as warranted, on MDA's progress and planning (1) to improve hardware-in-the-loop testing of the kill vehicle, (2) to test kill vehicle components in nuclear environments, and (3) to test the GMD element's capability to defeat likely and simple near-term countermeasures during integrated flight tests. In the report, DOT&E can advise the Director, MDA, on how the test program could be modified to accommodate DOT&E's long-standing concerns.

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