Tactical Intelligence:

Joint STARS Full-Rate Production Decision Was Premature and Risky

NSIAD-97-68: Published: Apr 25, 1997. Publicly Released: Apr 25, 1997.

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GAO reviewed the Department of Defense's (DOD) recent decision to commit to the full-rate production of the Joint Surveillance Target Attack Radar System (Joint STARS), focusing on whether: (1) the system had demonstrated a level of maturity through testing to justify a full-rate production commitment; (2) DOD considered and resolved important cost and performance issues prior to making its decision; and (3) there are future actions that could reduce program risk.

GAO noted that: (1) Joint STARS' performance during its combined development and operational test and the operational evaluation done in Bosnia do not support a decision to commit the system to full-rate production; (2) the system's operational effectiveness and suitability were not demonstrated during the operational testing; (3) DOD's decision to move Joint STARS into full-rate production was premature and raised the program's level of risk; (4) the program could have continued under low-rate initial production (LRIP) until operational effectiveness and suitability for combat were demonstrated and plans to address identified deficiencies and reduce program costs were completed; (5) DOD decided in favor of Joint STARS full-rate production without the benefit of that information; (6) during the period that the full-rate production decision was being considered, the Assistant to the President for National Security was promoting the sale of the system to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO); (7) in an August 10, 1996, memorandum to the Secretaries of State, Defense, and Commerce and to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the Assistant to the President stated that: "We have been working through various military, diplomatic, and political channels to secure NATO support for a fall 1996 decision in principle by the Conference of Armament Directors...to designate (Joint STARS) as NATO's common system"; (8) a DOD official informed GAO that in November 1996, the NATO armament directors delayed their decision on Joint STARS for 1 year; (9) before DOD approved the full-rate production of Joint STARS, the Director of Operational Test and Evaluation (DOT&E) provided Congress with a Joint STARS "Beyond LRIP" report; (10) the report clearly indicates that further operational testing is needed, DOT&E could only declare effectiveness for operations other than war, and the system was unsuitable as tested; (11) DOD plans follow-on test and evaluation to address the deficiencies identified during the earlier testing; (12) there is an opportunity not currently under consideration that could reduce the Joint STARS' program cost and result in an improved system; (13) since the Joint STARS was approved for LRIP, the procurement cost objective of the Air Force's share of the Joint STARS has increased by about $1 billion, primarily due to the greater effort and more resources needed to refurbish the 25- to 30-year-old Boeing 707 airframes than previously anticipated; and (14) it may now be more cost effective for the Air Force to buy the Boeing 767-200 Extended Range aircraft or some other new, more capable aircraft.

Status Legend:

More Info
  • Review Pending-GAO has not yet assessed implementation status.
  • Open-Actions to satisfy the intent of the recommendation have not been taken or are being planned, or actions that partially satisfy the intent of the recommendation have been taken.
  • Closed-implemented-Actions that satisfy the intent of the recommendation have been taken.
  • Closed-not implemented-While the intent of the recommendation has not been satisfied, time or circumstances have rendered the recommendation invalid.
    • Review Pending
    • Open
    • Closed - implemented
    • Closed - not implemented

    Matters for Congressional Consideration

    Matter: If Congress agrees that there is unnecessarily high risk in the Joint STARS program and believes the risk should be reduced, it may wish to require that the Air Force obtain DOT&E approval of a revised test and evaluation master plan (and all plans for the tests called for in that master plan) for follow-on operational testing to include adequate coverage of gaps left by prior testing and include testing of any added features considered part of the standard production configuration and that DOT&E considers key system components.

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: No further congressional action is now expected.

    Matter: If Congress agrees that there is unnecessarily high risk in the Joint STARS program and believes the risk should be reduced, it may wish to require that DOT&E provide a follow-on test and evaluation report to Congress evaluating the adequacy of all testing performed to judge operational effectiveness and suitability for combat and a definitive statement stating whether the system has demonstrated operational effectiveness and suitability.

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: No further congressional action now expected.

    Matter: If Congress agrees that there is unnecessarily high risk in the Joint STARS program and believes the risk should be reduced, it may wish to require that DOD develop and provide Congress an analysis of alternatives report on the Joint STARS air platform that considers the suitability of the current platform and other cost effective alternatives, and the life cycle costs of the current platform and best alternatives.

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: No further congressional action now expected.

    Recommendation for Executive Action

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Defense should direct the Air Force to perform an analysis of possible alternatives to the current Joint STARS air platform, to include placing this system on a new airframe.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: No further DOD action more compliant with the recommendation is now expected.

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