Missile Defense:

Status of the National Missile Defense Program

NSIAD-00-131: Published: May 31, 2000. Publicly Released: Jun 19, 2000.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO reviewed the National Missile Defense program, focusing on: (1) programmatic changes to the program and whether significant performance and schedule risks remain; and (2) program officials' efforts to control costs, program estimate, and the potential for cost increases.

GAO noted that: (1) to reduce risks, the Department of Defense (DOD) has delayed initial fielding of the National Missile Defense system from fiscal year 2003 to 2005, delayed program decisions on the production of radars and interceptors, and increased funding for testing; (2) even with these programmatic changes, significant performance and schedule risks remain for several reasons; (3) developing a highly reliable hit-to-kill capability is a difficult technical challenge; (4) in various missile defense programs, this capability has been demonstrated in about 30 percent of the attempted intercepts outside the atmosphere; (5) only 3 of the 19 planned intercept attempts are scheduled prior to the July 2000 deployment readiness review; (6) none of these attempts will expose the interceptor kill vehicle to the higher acceleration and vibration loads of the much faster, actual system booster; (7) because the program has a very aggressive schedule, it is vulnerable to delays; (8) compared to the 15 years estimated to develop and field another missile defense system called the Theater High Altitude Area Defense system, the schedule to develop and field the National Missile Defense system covers only 8 years; (9) DOD told Congress last October that the development and deployment schedule was compressed by at least 4 years because of the seriousness of the emerging missile threat from rogue nations; (10) to control costs, DOD has implemented several measures, including a process called "cost as an independent variable," which sets realistic cost objectives and trades off the system's performance and schedule to control costs; (11) officials estimate that the savings from this process include $4.3 billion from early trade studies conducted by the prime contractor on alternative mixes of radars and interceptor locations; (12) after incorporating the expected cost savings from these measures, the National Missile Defense program office estimated that the approved program would cost $36.2 billion over the life of the Capability I system or about $7.5 billion more than its 1999 estimate; (13) the cost increased mostly because of the decision to increase the number of interceptors and add flight tests, ground-test equipment, and a more capable radar facility; and (14) using current spending rates the program office estimates that each month of delay would increase program costs by $124 million.

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