Ballistic Missile Defense:

Prototype THAAD System

NSIAD-97-137R: Published: Mar 27, 1997. Publicly Released: Mar 27, 1997.

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GAO questioned the risk of basing the Army's prototype Theater High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) missile program production decision on a configuration different from that planned for production.

GAO noted that: (1) test flight 7 was conducted on March 6, 1997, and like all three previous THAAD intercept tests, the interceptor failed to hit its target; (2) the Department of Defense (DOD) now plans to base the THAAD User Operational Evaluation System (UOES) production decision on test flight 8, scheduled for mid-1997, if it is successful; (3) the interceptor for test flight 8 is to contain the same type seeker that will be installed on the UOES interceptors; (4) as a consequence, GAO's concern about producing a configuration different than the one tested and DOD's response have become moot; (5) DOD, however, still plans to commit over $200 million to UOES interceptor production on the basis of a single successful intercept and despite four consecutive failures; (6) therefore, GAO's initial concern about the limited amount of testing planned before UOES interceptor production remains; (7) as GAO reported in July 1996, based on current plans, DOD will commit funds for producing 40 UOES interceptors well before testing provides assurance of the UOES system's capabilities; (8) GAO's work has repeatedly shown that when production of weapon systems began on the basis of schedule or other considerations rather than on the basis of technical maturity, major design changes were often needed to correct problems; (9) the design changes frequently led to additional testing and costly retrofit of units already produced; and (10) because sufficient data for a limited assessment of the operational effectiveness of the UOES system will not be available until limited user tests are completed in 1998, DOD risks acquiring a system that might not be capable enough to warrant its deployment in an emergency.

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