Missile Defense:

DOD Needs to More Fully Assess Requirements and Establish Operational Units before Fielding New Capabilities

GAO-09-856: Published: Sep 16, 2009. Publicly Released: Sep 16, 2009.

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In 2002, the Department of Defense (DOD) began developing and rapidly fielding a global Ballistic Missile Defense System (BMDS) composed of elements that include radars, interceptors, and command and control systems. These elements are envisioned to be linked together to defend against a broad range of ballistic missile threats. In 2009, DOD began a broadly scoped review of missile defense policy and strategy intended to reassess the BMDS and set direction for the future. In response to congressional interest in missile defense requirements and operations, GAO reviewed the extent to which DOD has (1) identified the types and quantities of elements and interceptors it needs and (2) established the units to operate elements that have been put into use. GAO reviewed key analyses, studies, plans, and other documents from the Missile Defense Agency (MDA), the services, combatant commands, and Joint Staff; and interviewed officials from across DOD.

DOD lacks the comprehensive analytic basis needed to make fully informed decisions about the types and quantities of elements and interceptors it needs. Such an analytic basis would include a comprehensive examination of the optimal mix of elements and interceptors needed to meet all of DOD's ballistic missile defense requirements. DOD studies prepared to date were completed for specific purposes, such as addressing regional threats. However, none of the studies have taken a comprehensive approach that addressed the full range of requirements. The Joint Staff conducted studies, for example, to identify the minimum interceptor quantities needed for certain ballistic missile defense elements designed to defend against short-to-intermediate-range threats. Additionally, the combatant commands have analyzed their ballistic missile defense requirements for their specific regions, and the services have studied requirements for specific elements. Without a full assessment of its overall requirements, DOD lacks the information it needs to make the best possible policy, strategy, and budgetary decisions for ballistic missile defense. DOD has faced challenges in fully establishing units to operate five of eight ballistic missile defense elements that have been put into operational use. DOD typically requires that major weapon systems be fielded with a full complement of organized and trained personnel. To rapidly field missile defenses, however, DOD has in some cases put ballistic missile defense elements into operational use before first ensuring that the military services had created units and trained servicemembers to operate them. Three of the eight elements were modifications to existing systems, like the Navy's Aegis ships, so units already existed to operate these modified elements. The five remaining elements--the midcourse defense system designed to defend the United States from long-range threats; the high-altitude, theater missile defense system; a powerful radar placed on a sea-based, movable platform; ground-based radars currently fielded in Japan and Israel; and the command and control system designed to link the BMDS together--were put into use before operational units were fully established. As a result, DOD has faced a number of challenges. For example, the Army faced personnel shortfalls to operate the midcourse defense system. These shortages affected the Army units' ability to support ongoing research and development activities and ultimately resulted in operational readiness concerns. MDA and the military services are taking steps to establish the needed forces, but this may take years for some elements. DOD recognizes the challenges created by putting elements into early use, but has not set criteria requiring that operational units be in place before new elements are made available for use. Looking ahead, several new elements are in development, like the radars and interceptors currently being considered for deployment in Europe, and emerging threats could again cause DOD to press those capabilities into use. Unless fully trained units are in place to support missile defense elements when they are made operational, DOD will continue to face uncertainties and operational risks associated with the elements.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: We are closing this recommendation as implemented because DOD has conducted a number of comprehensive analyses and considered a range of factors required for performing ballistic missile defense (BMD) missions worldwide, as our recommendation intended. Since our report was issued, DOD has conducted numerous analyses of its BMD requirements worldwide, including the Joint Capabilities Mix Study (JCM III), 16 follow-on JCM III excursion studies, and at least 8 other BMD assessments. We found that the JCM III study and its 16 excursion studies incorporated factors we recommended that DOD include in its comprehensive analysis, including integration of elements, risk assessment of threat, BMDS capabilities and limitations, allied contributions, and employment of multi-mission platforms. DOD also has a number of completed and ongoing BMD assessments, including one examining BMD sensor requirements worldwide and a comprehensive portfolio review examining DOD's entire air and missile defense portfolio. In addition, the Office of the Secretary of Defense (OSD) directed a study on Terminal High Altitude Area Defense system requirements in order to inform DOD?s budget request, and the Secretary of Defense directed this study to be used to inform annual program reviews, OSD resourcing, and the Army's process for determining overall force structure requirements. Because DOD conducted these studies as we recommended, the department has a more comprehensive analytic basis for making better policy, strategy, and budgetary decisions for ballistic missile defense.

    Recommendation: To establish the foundation needed to make effective policy, strategy, budgetary, and acquisition decisions, the Secretary of Defense should direct the preparation and periodic updating of a comprehensive analysis of the types and quantities of ballistic missile defense elements and interceptors that are required for performing ballistic missile defense missions worldwide. The analysis should consider the integration of elements; risk assessments of the threat, capabilities and limitations of the BMDS, and redundancy requirements; allied contributions; the employment of elements that can perform multiple types of ballistic missile defense missions and other missions; and any other relevant factors identified by the department.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In agreeing to this recommendation, DOD stated that its comprehensive analysis would shape ballistic missile defense developmental and acquisition priorities in future budget requests, and its overall ballistic missile defense policy, strategy, and future deployment options. Since our report was issued, DOD has conducted a number of analyses incorporating factors we recommended, such as the Joint Capabilities Mix Study III (JCM III), 16 excursions to the JCM III, and at least 8 other BMD assessments. According to DOD officials, the JCM III, excursion studies and other BMD assessments were among the factors used to make programmatic recommendations for acquiring specific numbers and types of launch platforms, interceptors, and sensors. Specifically, one of the Joint Capabilities Mix Study III goals included supporting the development of the FY13 budget submission and future budget submissions by conducting a sufficiency analysis of ballistic missile defense assets. In addition, findings from the JCM III study were presented to the Missile Defense Executive Board, Joint Requirements Oversight Council, and the Deputy's Management Action Group to inform policy on procuring sufficient interceptors and to prioritize on specific BMD areas. In addition, the Office of the Secretary of Defense (OSD) directed a study on Terminal High Altitude Area Defense system requirements in order to inform DOD's budget request, and the Secretary of Defense directed this study to be used to inform annual program reviews, OSD resourcing, and the Army's process for determining overall force structure requirements. Taken together, DOD's actions have the effect of implementing the intent of our recommendation.

    Recommendation: To establish the foundation needed to make effective policy, strategy, budgetary, and acquisition decisions, the Secretary of Defense should use this analysis as a foundation for evaluating DOD's ballistic missile defense developmental and acquisition priorities in future budget requests as well as its overall ballistic missile defense policy and strategy direction.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

  3. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: DOD closed this recommendation as implemented in February 2011, stating that, as part of the routine business of fielding systems, it requires operational units be established with the organizations, personnel, and training needed to perform of their ballistic missile defense responsibilities before elements are first made available for operational use. During our followup on this recommendation, officials from the Office of the Secretary of Defense told us that, partly as a result of our report, DOD has established a standard process to ensure that ballistic missile defense elements are fielded with operational units, personnel, and training in place. Specifically, the officials told us that guidance from the Deputy Secretary of Defense, issued in June 2011, creates a standard process for defining the conditions under which ballistic missile defense elements will be made available for operations for the first time. We reviewed three agreements prepared under this direction that cover elements that either have been deployed since our report was issued, or will be deployed at a future date, and determined that each agreement requires the services to prepare the forces needed for operations, as our recommendation intended. For example, the THAAD and AN/TPY-2 radar agreements both require the Army and MDA to meet Army full materiel release requirements when accepting operational responsibility for the element for the first time. Upon full materiel release, according to Army regulations, the Army has identified manpower and personnel requirements to operate and maintain the element, and determined that training is adequate. The THAAD agreement further specifies that the Army is required to train instructors and key personnel, and approve the unit's organizational requirements. The AN/TPY-2 agreement also requires the Army to organize and field radar detachments, and train soldiers and establish units for radar operations. Additionally, the agreement covering the Aegis Ashore element requires the Navy to develop the manpower, training, and infrastructure requirements needed for operations. The agreement also obligates the Navy to fund military pay and allowances, site and facility operations, and ensure that the Navy budget reflects operational funding requirements for Aegis Ashore sites at the time the system is first fielded. DOD's actions to develop this approach implements the intent of our recommendation and, as a result, mitigates potential risk as new ballistic missile defense elements are fielded for the first time.

    Recommendation: To reduce the potential risks associated with operating ballistic missile defense elements with insufficient force structure, the Secretary of Defense should require, in the absence of an immediate threat or crisis, that operational units be established with the organizations, personnel, and training needed to perform all of their ballistic missile defense responsibilities before first making elements available for operational use.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

 

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