National Missile Defense:

Schedule and Technical Risks Represent Significant Development Challenges

NSIAD-98-28: Published: Dec 12, 1997. Publicly Released: Jan 12, 1998.

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Pursuant to congressional request, GAO reviewed the technical and schedule risks associated with the Department of Defense's (DOD) National Missile Defense (NMD) program.

GAO noted that: (1) DOD faces significant challenges in the NMD program because of high schedule and technical risks; (2) schedule risk is high because the schedule requires a large number of activities to be completed in a relatively short amount of time; (3) the sequential nature of key developmental activities--such as not being able to proceed in earnest until a prime NMD contractor is selected in the spring of 1998--magnifies time pressures; (4) furthermore, developing and deploying an NMD system in the 6 years allotted under the program will be a significant challenge for DOD given its past history with other weapon systems; (5) for example, NMD's aquisition schedule is about one-half as long as that of the only other U.S.-based ballistic missile defense system; (6) DOD acknowledges the high schedule risk; (7) technical risks are high because the compressed development schedule only allows limited testing; (8) the NMD acquisition strategy calls for conducting: (a) one system test prior to the initial system deployment decision--a test that would not include all system elements or involve stressing conditions such as threats employing sophisticated countermeasures or multiple warheads; and (b) one test of the integrated ground-based interceptor before production of the interceptor's booster element must begin; and (9) if subsequent tests reveal problems, costly redesign or modification of already produced hardware may be required.

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