NORAD's Missile Warning System:

What Went Wrong?

MASAD-81-30: Published: May 15, 1981. Publicly Released: May 20, 1981.

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GAO was requested to review recent missile warning system failures at the North American Air Defense Command (NORAD). The NORAD command post is in the underground Cheyenne Mountain complex in Colorado. Missile warning information gathered from the Worldwide Military Command and Control System (WWMCCS) is processed on the 427M system computers. The 427M computer system is presently in an upgrade program. GAO evaluated: (1) the extent, if any, of the relationship of computer acquisition policies, directives, or procedures implementing the legal requirements of the Brooks Act to the 427M system problems; (2) actions taken to correct missile warning system failures; and (3) what remains to be done and if that effort is hindered in any way by computer acquisition policies, directives, or procedures.

GAO could not document any relationship of the acquisition policies, directives, or procedures to 427M system problems. In response to recent GAO recommendations, NORAD has instituted significant changes in its acquisition management of computer resources and has planned further improvements. One further action is still needed: NORAD should be released from any requirements to use WWMCCS equipment and software, because it is not adequate to satisfy the NORAD requirements. NORAD has taken actions to correct the problems that led to recent missile warning failures. It has constructed a software development and testing facility that allows the development and testing of all software at an offsite facility to prevent errors which occurred when test data were inadvertently injected into the operational missile warning system. Also, changes in warning transmission procedures, line check message formats, and outgoing message error checking should prevent false alerts such as those which occurred in June 1980. In examining the documentation on the 427M system interim upgrades and planned follow-on replacement systems, GAO could not identify any potential hinderance to their acquisition from the current applicable legislation, policies, or implementing regulations. NORAD is proceeding in a logical, reasoned manner toward 427M system interim upgrades for the mid-1980's and the follow-on replacement in the late 1980's.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed

    Comments: Please call 202/512-6100 for additional information.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Defense should assist and support the North American Air Defense Command's plans for providing stable, reliable electrical power for the Cheyenne Mountain complex computers.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

  2. Status: Closed

    Comments: Please call 202/512-6100 for additional information.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Defense should curtail further consideration of additional delegation of procurement authority for the North American Air Defense Command until such time that the system architectures are completed, and then only if some critical need has been validated.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

  3. Status: Closed

    Comments: Please call 202/512-6100 for additional information.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Defense should take action to exempt the North American Air Defense Command (NORAD) from Joint Chiefs of Staff directions to use standardized World Wide Military Command and Control System (WWMCCS) computers and allow acquisition of systems that are based on actual NORAD mission requirements. These NORAD systems should be required to maintain interface capability with WWMCCS.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

  4. Status: Closed

    Comments: Please call 202/512-6100 for additional information.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Defense should assist and support current North American Air Defense Command 427M system replacement planning and creation of overall missile warning and space surveillance architectures.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

 

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