Missile Defense:

Actions Needed to Improve Information for Supporting Future Key Decisions for Boost and Ascent Phase Elements

GAO-07-430: Published: Apr 17, 2007. Publicly Released: Apr 17, 2007.

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The Department of Defense (DOD) has spent about $107 billion since the mid-1980s to develop a capability to destroy incoming ballistic missiles. DOD has set key decision points for deciding whether to further invest in capabilities to destroy missiles during the initial phases after launch. In March 2006, DOD issued a report on these capabilities in response to two mandates. To satisfy a direction from the House Appropriations Committee, GAO agreed to review the report. To assist Congress in evaluating DOD's report and preparing for future decisions, GAO studied the extent to which DOD (1) analyzed technical and operational issues and (2) presented complete cost information. To do so, GAO assessed the report's methodology, explanation of assumptions and their effects on results, and whether DOD followed key principles for developing life-cycle costs.

The report DOD's Missile Defense Agency (MDA) submitted to Congress in March 2006 included some useful technical and operational information on boost and ascent phase capabilities by describing these elements, listing upcoming decision points, and discussing geographic areas where boost and ascent elements could intercept missiles shortly after launch. However, the information in the report has several limitations because the analysis did not involve key DOD stakeholders such as the services and combatant commands in preparing the report and did not clearly explain modeling assumptions and their effects on results as required by relevant research standards. MDA's report states that, at this time, some data is limited, and operational concepts that discuss operations from forward locations have not been fully vetted with the services and combatant commands. However, the report did not explain how each element's performance may change if developing technologies do not perform as expected. Also, it did not address the challenges in establishing bases at the locations cited or provide information on the quantity of each element required for various deployment periods. Moving forward, DOD has an opportunity to involve stakeholders in analyzing operational and technical issues so that senior DOD and congressional leaders will have more complete information on which to base upcoming program decisions following key tests in 2008 and 2009 for the Kinetic Energy Interceptor and Airborne Laser boost and ascent phase programs. MDA's report provided some cost estimates for developing and fielding boost and ascent phase capabilities, but these estimates have several limitations and will require refinement before they can serve as a basis for DOD and congressional decision makers to compare life-cycle costs for the elements. MDA's report states that there is uncertainty in estimating life-cycle costs because the elements are early in development. However, based on a comparison of the estimates in the report with key principles for developing life-cycle cost estimates, GAO found that MDA's estimates did not include all cost categories, including costs to establish and sustain operations at U.S. bases and at forward overseas operating locations. Also, MDA's estimates did not calculate costs based on realistic quantities of each element the combatant commanders or services would need to conduct the mission. Finally, MDA did not conduct a sensitivity analysis to assess the effect of key cost drivers on total costs. MDA officials stated that further analysis of the costs for each element along with measures to assess their confidence would help to better inform DOD and congressional decision makers in making investment decisions following key tests in 2008 and 2009.

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 provide decision makers with complete and reliable data on the costs of each boost/ascent phase BMDS element to enhance investment and budget decisions, the Secretary of Defense should direct an independent group, such as the Cost Analysis Improvement Group, to prepare an independent life-cycle cost estimate for each capability at each key decision point.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

    Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: DOD partially agreed with this recommendation. The agency believed that some program key decision points require an independent life cycle cost estimate while others do not. However, in 2009, DOD terminated the Kenetic Energy Interceptor (KEI) program and restructured the Airborne Laser (ABL) program into a technology demonstration program. GAO reported in 2010 that The current ABL program is not expected to result in an operational system. Both these programs were addressing boost and ascent phase elements.

    Recommendation: To provide decision makers with complete and reliable data on the costs of each boost/ascent phase BMDS element to enhance investment and budget decisions, the Secretary of Defense should direct the Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology, and Logistics to require MDA to prepare and--to support key decision points--periodically update a full life-cycle cost estimate for each boost/ascent phase element, in accordance with key principles for developing accurate and reliable life-cycle cost estimates, that includes all operational costs, including costs to establish and sustain operations at U.S. bases and forward locations, and that is based on warfighter quantities, includes sensitivity analyses, and reflects time phasing.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

    Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: DOD did not agree with this recommendation. The agency stated that it continuously assesses all aspects of its developments and will direct an independent evaluation of life cycle costs for boost and ascent phase elements if circumstances warrant or if the Director, Missile Defense Agency (MDA), declares an element mature enough to provide a militarily useful capability. However, in 2009, DOD terminated the Kinetic Energy Interceptor (KEI) program and restructured the Airborne Laser (ABL) program into a technology demonstration program. GAO reported in 2010 that the current ABL program is not expected to result in an operational system. Both these programs were addressing boost and ascent phase elements.

    Recommendation: To support key decision points for the BMDS boost and ascent phase elements and to provide decision makers with information that enables them to clearly understand the technical progress and operational implications of each boost and ascent phase element and make fully informed, fact-based, program decisions at future key decision points, the Secretary of Defense should direct the Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology, and Logistics to use the results of these analyses at each key decision point.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

    Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: DOD concurred with our recommendation, and the Department stated that key program decisions would continue to be informed by detailed technical analysis, including assessments of element technical maturity, and any sensitivity of element performance estimates to the models and simulations used. However, in 2009, DOD terminated the Kinetic Energy Interceptor (KEI) program and restructured the Airborne Laser (ABL) program into a technology demonstration program. GAO reported in 2010 that the current ABL program is not expected to result in an operational system. Both these programs were addressing boost and ascent phase elements.

    Recommendation: To support key decision points for the BMDS boost and ascent phase elements and to provide decision makers with information that enables them to clearly understand the technical progress and operational implications of each boost and ascent phase element and make fully informed, fact-based, program decisions at future key decision points, the Secretary of Defense should direct the Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology, and Logistics to provide specific information on the technical progress of each element. Specifically, the analysis should explain current technical maturity versus desired technical maturity and capabilities of all major components and subsystems, reasonable model inputs on element performance, and provide a clear explanation of assumptions and their effect on results.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

    Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: DOD concurred with our recommendation, and the agency stated that key boost/ascent phase decisions would be informed by detailed technical analysis, including assessments of element technical maturity, and any sensitivity of element performance estimates to the models and simulations used. However, in 2009, DOD terminated the Kinetic Energy Interceptor (KEI) program and restructured the Airborne Laser (ABL) program into a technology demonstration program. GAO reported in 2010 that the current ABL program is not expected to result in an operational system. Both these programs were addressing boost and ascent phase elements.

    Recommendation: To support key decision points for the Ballistic Missile Defense System (BMDS) boost and ascent phase elements and to provide decision makers with information that enables them to clearly understand the technical progress and operational implications of each boost and ascent phase element and make fully informed, fact-based, program decisions at future key decision points, the Secretary of Defense should direct the Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology, and Logistics to include all DOD stakeholders (including services, combatant commands, Joint Staff) in developing and analyzing operational issues regarding what is needed to support operations at U.S. bases and potential forward locations, including basing assessments, force structure and quantity requirements, infrastructure, security/force protection, maintenance, and personnel.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

    Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: DOD concurred with GAO's recommendation and indicated its plans to include all DOD stakeholders--including services, combatant commands, and Joint Staff--in developing and analyzing operational issues related to boost and ascent phase elements of the Ballistic Missile Defense System (BMDS). However, in 2009, DOD terminated the Kinetic Energy Interceptor (KEI) program and restructured the Airborne Laser (ABL) program into a technology demonstration program. GAO reported in 2010 that the current ABL program is not expected to result in an operational system. Both these programs were addressing boost and ascent phase elements.

    Recommendation: To provide decision makers with complete and reliable data on the costs of each boost/ascent phase BMDS element to enhance investment and budget decisions, the Secretary of Defense should direct MDA and services to report independently verified life-cycle cost estimates along with budget requests and Future Years Defense Program funding plans for each boost/ascent phase element.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

    Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: DOD did not agree to implement this recommendation. Because operations and support segments of the budget are organized by functional area--for example, personnel, unit-level consumption, and sustaining support--DOD stated that operations and support cost cannot always be tracked to a specific weapon system. Rather than submit life cycle cost estimates along with budget requests and the Future Years Defense Plan, DOD planned to submit an annual Transition and Transfer Plan that assigns responsibility for missile defense assets to organizations and lays out delivery plans, funding, and schedules. DOD believed that this document can be used to provide needed insights into estimated Ballistic Missile Defense System (BMDS) life cycle costs. In 2009, DOD terminated the Kinetic Energy Interceptor (KEI) program and restructured the Airborne Laser (ABL) program into a technology demonstration program. GAO reported in 2010 that The current ABL program is not expected to result in an operational system. Both these programs were addressing boost and ascent phase elements.

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