Attack Warning:

NORAD's Communications System Segment Replacement Program Should Be Reassessed

IMTEC-89-1: Published: Nov 30, 1988. Publicly Released: Nov 30, 1988.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO assessed the Air Force's acquisition strategy for replacing the Communications System Segment (CSS) of its North American Aerospace Defense Command's (NORAD) Tactical Warning and Attack Assessment System, focusing on: (1) whether the Air Force should accept and install the block I semi-automated technical control unit as planned; (2) the extent to which CSS upgrades will satisfy requirements and extend the system's life; and (3) whether the Air Force should develop the block II automated message distribution capability, given the recent reductions in requirements, current system upgrades, and high development risks.

GAO found that the Air Force: (1) has spent about $72 million on the block I unit for the CSS replacement; (2) Electronic Systems Division plans to accept the block I unit, although its critical design deficiencies in software, restart requirements, and wiring standard and equipment incompatibility preclude its installation and use at the Cheyenne Mountain Air Force Station, which houses the data processing and communications subsystems supporting NORAD; (3) plans to allow the contractor to correct identified deficiencies, at no additional cost to the government, during block II development; (4) will correct, through its planned upgrades, all identified, existing CSS problems, such as unreliable message processing, inadequate computer system availability, software and hardware maintenance, and expansion limitations; and (5) cited the need for a common message set, a consistent message load, and a standardized communications protocol before it could make the CSS replacement fully operational.

Matter for Congressional Consideration

  1. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: The House Appropriations Committee withheld funding for the program, but the House and Senate Appropriations Conferees returned full program funding.

    Matter: Congress should withhold funding for any follow-up communications system until the Air Force has presented an acceptable plan for: (1) solving critical issues such as protocol standards, message set, and work-load capacity; and (2) determining the most effective and efficient approach for achieving Cheyenne Mountain's future communications needs.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: The Secretary has not delayed further block II development. In September 1989, the Defense Acquisition Board met to review the Air Force's proposed corrections and new baseline for the program. Since September 1989, the Air Force has deferred committing to a new protocol standard, placed a standard message set under contract with all vendors, and reduced the CSS work load.

    Recommendation: Before proceeding with further development of block II, the Secretary of Defense should direct the Secretary of the Air Force to resolve critical issues such as protocol standards, message set, and work-load capacity. The Secretary of the Air Force should proceed with the planned interim upgrades to existing CSS and complete an analysis that determines the impact, in terms of performance, cost, and schedule, of critical system design questions. When completed, this analysis should be used to assist in developing a plan for determining the most effective means of meeting future communications processing needs at Cheyenne Mountain.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

  2. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: Formal qualification testing was completed in February 1990, and the 12 open action items have been closed by the Air Force.

    Recommendation: If formal qualification testing identifies additional deficiencies, the Secretary of Defense should decide whether the Air Force's best interests are served by correcting any or all of them, and make visible to the appropriate congressional committees the source of funding used to correct the deficiencies.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

  3. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: The Air Force Systems Command accepted the Block I hardware.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Defense should direct the Secretary of the Air Force not to accept the block I unit as currently planned until the deficiencies are corrected. Given that the Electronic Systems Division and the contractor have stated that the deficiencies will be corrected at no additional cost to the government, the Secretary of Defense should direct that the deficiencies be corrected immediately and that complete, continuous, end-to-end formal qualification testing be conducted to determine and document compliance with block I specifications. The test results should be used to assess whether the system meets specified requirements and whether any additional deficiencies are identified.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

  4. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: The Air Force Space Command has initiated a program to eliminate wiring congestion and to standardize all wiring at Cheyenne Mountain. As of June 1990, three miles of unused wiring has been removed from the mountain. The Command expects this project to be completed in 1993. Since progress is being made, there is no reason to keep this recommendation open until 1993.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Defense should direct the Secretary of the Air Force to correct Cheyenne Mountain configuration problems by: (1) eliminating cable congestion; (2) establishing a single wiring standard; and (3) determining minimum acceptable performance levels, given limited physical space.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

 

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