Military Satellite Communications:

Concerns With Milstar's Support to Strategic and Tactical Forces

NSIAD-99-2: Published: Nov 10, 1998. Publicly Released: Nov 10, 1998.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO reviewed the Department of Defense's (DOD) multiservice Milstar system, focusing on the: (1) Milstar system's capabilities to support strategic and tactical missions; and (2) extent to which DOD has provided assurance of continuing comparable satellite communications among the users after the Milstar satellites under development are launched.

GAO noted that: (1) there are several limitations associated with the Milstar system's capabilities to support strategic missions; (2) although the Milstar I system has been deployed for over 2 years, a May 1998 draft operational test report revealed that system support could be limited in some critical strategic mission areas; (3) operational testing showed that military commanders could not communicate by voice in a timely and intelligible manner, when using the low data rate capabilities; (4) this limitation was attributable to inherent characteristics of Milstar's low data rate technology and associated peripheral equipment; (5) operational testing of the missile warning teletype network was planned, but not performed, to verify that accurate and timely ballistic missile alert messages could be transmitted from North American Aerospace Defense Command to other strategic command centers; (6) a subsequent Air Force test of this teletype network determined that a required redundancy check for data accuracy could not be performed without software modifications; (7) operational testing revealed a Milstar system endurance issue, associated with the nuclear bomber force, that must be resolved because of the requirement for continuous communication capabilities if the bomber force needed to be recalled or redirected; (8) testing showed that the configuration of peripheral equipment and its accompanying software has not been effectively controlled or fully certified to ensure communications interoperability with the Milstar system; (9) DOD has identified corrective actions for the limitations in these four areas; (10) final resolutions are dependent on approval of requirements, verification through testing, a certification process, or obtaining necessary funds; (11) DOD has not provided assurance that the continuity of protected medium data rate satellite communication capabilities will be maintained for tactical forces after the four Milstar II satellites are launched; (12) the satellite constellation's communication capabilities are predicted to degrade below a minimally acceptable level in fiscal year (FY) 2003, before the advanced satellite system is expected to be available in FY 2006; (13) the deployment of Milstar II tactical terminals is expected to be completed by 2003, and tactical forces will have become dependent on the Milstar II system; (14) this situation could result in users not having the communications capacity they require to execute their missions; and (15) DOD has not fully assessed the associated operational risks to tactical forces.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: DOD stated that it had been advised by congressional staff from the Subcommittee on National Security, House Committee on Appropriations, that it was not necessary to expand on the content of the Milstar report due to the Congress on March 31, 1999.

    Recommendation: In conjunction with the report that DOD is directed to provide by March 31, 1999, to the congressional defense committees on the effects of Milstar communications degradation, the Secretary of Defense should provide information on the status and progress of DOD's efforts to resolve Milstar I operational issues and Milstar II developmental issues. This information should include technical, schedule, testing, and funding matters pertinent to: (1) achieving user-to-user strategic communication network connectivity; and (2) managing the development difficulties associated with the automated communications management system.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

  2. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: DOD stated that it had been advised by congressional staff from the Subcommittee on National Security, House Committee on Appropriations, that it was not necessary to expand on the content of the Milstar report due to the Congress on March 31, 1999.

    Recommendation: In assessing the operational risks associated with the predicated degradation of Milstar communications, as directed by the House Committee on Appropriations, the Secretary of Defense should specifically address: (1) the minimally acceptable level of extremely high frequency satellite communications needed to support tactical forces; and (2) the capability of the Milstar system to provide this minimum level of communications until an advanced extremely high frequency communications capability is deployed.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

 

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