Space Acquisitions:

DOD Needs Additional Knowledge as it Embarks on a New Approach for Transformational Satellite Communications System

GAO-06-537: Published: May 24, 2006. Publicly Released: May 24, 2006.

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The Department of Defense (DOD) wants to create a networked force where soldiers and systems are able to operate together seamlessly. To help facilitate this transformation, DOD began the Transformational Satellite Communications System (TSAT) program in January 2004. We reported in 2003 that TSAT was about to begin without sufficiently mature technology. In this report, at your request, we followed up with an assessment of (1) how the TSAT program is progressing, and (2) whether the program is using an acquisition approach that will provide the knowledge needed to enter product development.

The Department of Defense is not meeting original cost, schedule, and performance goals established for the TSAT program. When the program was initiated in 2004, DOD estimated TSAT's total acquisition cost to be $15.5 billion and that it would launch the first satellite in April 2011. TSAT's current formal cost estimate is nearly $16 billion and the initial launch date has slipped to September 2014--a delay of over three years. Furthermore, while the performance goal of the full five-satellite constellation has not changed, the initial delivery of capability will be less than what DOD originally planned. After DOD established initial goals for TSAT, Congress twice reduced the program's funding due to concerns about technology maturity and the aggressiveness of the acquisition schedule. DOD developed the initial goals before it had sufficient knowledge about critical TSAT technologies. DOD is taking positive steps to lower risk in the TSAT program so it can enter the product development phase with greater chance of success. However, as DOD prepares to implement a new incremental development approach for the program, it faces gaps in knowledge that could hamper its success. An incremental development will mean reduced capabilities in the initial satellites and more advanced capabilities in the remaining satellites. Given this change, it will be important for DOD to update requirements in coordination with the TSAT user community. While senior DOD officials have agreed to these reduced capabilities to get the first satellite launched in 2014, DOD has yet to reevaluate its investment in TSAT in light of other DOD investments using the knowledge it has now gained. Using this new knowledge, DOD could be in a better position to set more realistic goals, before entering product development.

Status Legend:

More Info
  • Review Pending-GAO has not yet assessed implementation status.
  • Open-Actions to satisfy the intent of the recommendation have not been taken or are being planned, or actions that partially satisfy the intent of the recommendation have been taken.
  • Closed-implemented-Actions that satisfy the intent of the recommendation have been taken.
  • Closed-not implemented-While the intent of the recommendation has not been satisfied, time or circumstances have rendered the recommendation invalid.
    • Review Pending
    • Open
    • Closed - implemented
    • Closed - not implemented

    Recommendations for Executive Action

    Recommendation: To improve DOD's transition to transformational communications by gaining the additional knowledge it needs before TSAT enters product development, the Secretary of Defense should direct the Under Secretary of the Air Force to prove that all critical technologies will work as intended.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: DOD recently changed the acquisition strategy to an incremental development approach to increase the confidence in technologies. DOD also rescinded a previous decision to enter the preliminary design phase for the system so that current activities fall within the concept development phase of development. DOD states that the maturity of all critical technologies will be demonstrated prior to entering product development, currently scheduled for September 2007.

    Recommendation: To improve DOD's transition to transformational communications by gaining the additional knowledge it needs before TSAT enters product development, the Secretary of Defense should direct the Under Secretary of the Air Force to update requirements in coordination with the TSAT user community.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The Joint Requirements Oversight Council directed the Transformational Satellite Communications System (TSAT) program office to restructure the development initiative to satisfy a change in requirements and provide a phased approach for capacity growth.

    Recommendation: To improve DOD's transition to transformational communications by gaining the additional knowledge it needs before TSAT enters product development, the Secretary of Defense should direct the Under Secretary of the Air Force to reassess the value of TSAT in the broader context of other DOD investments, using updated knowledge on likely cost, schedule, technology, and initial capability.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The Secretary of Defense deemed the Transformational Satellite Communications System (TSAT) development initiative unaffordable and recommended its termination.

    Recommendation: To improve DOD's transition to transformational communications by gaining the additional knowledge it needs before TSAT enters product development, the Secretary of Defense should direct the Under Secretary of the Air Force to establish new cost, schedule, and performance goals for the program once the above knowledge has been gained.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The Air Force restructured the Transformational Satellite Communications System (TSAT) program to satisfy a new requirement and provide a phased approach for capacity growth. It also revised the date for the launch of the first satellite to 2019, almost four years later than previously scheduled.

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