Our Annual “Quick Look” at DOD’s Weapon Programs

Posted on March 19, 2015
Last week, we issued our annual review of the Department of Defense’s (DOD) major weapon programs. This review assessed 78 programs that will cost a combined $1.4 trillion to acquire. Read on for highlights of our latest DOD “Quick Look” report. Lower Costs, Continued Risks The total estimated cost of DOD’s major weapons acquisition programs decreased over the past year, putting it at the lowest level of spending in a decade. Costs for the 78 programs we assessed decreased by $7.6 billion over the past year, partially as a result of DOD ordering fewer Littoral Combat Ships and shrinking a communications program, the Warfighter Information Network—Tactical Increment 3. Although overall costs are down, the 78 programs collectively lost $2.2 billion* in buying power, meaning that they must spend more money to buy the same materials and equipment (or less) than originally planned. DOD’s defense acquisition programs continue to be risky, as they do not always incorporate all of our acquisition best practices. In our latest report, we found that
  • all 6 of the programs that started developing systems in the past year neglected to fully follow best practices for product development;
  • 2 other programs progressed through a critical design review step without completing all best practices; and
  • 3 programs delayed production, and had not fully followed best practices at earlier stages.
We also issued a separate report earlier this month on DOD’s many smaller acquisition programs, which found that DOD did not have reliable data on the number of programs, their total cost, or their performance. Getting Better? As we’ve reported, Congress and DOD have taken steps to address longstanding problems with defense acquisitions. For example, most of the programs we assessed this year improved the way they prepared to negotiate contracts, resulting in $32.3 billion in potential savings. Over half of these savings have already been realized, as shown below.

GAO-15-342SP, DEFENSE ACQUISITIONS: Assessments of Selected Weap(Excerpted from GAO-15-342SP)

Still, DOD continues to accept risks by allowing programs to
  • waive important certifications when they start developing systems, or
  • begin production before completing developmental testing.
Risks in DOD’s weapon system acquisition have kept it on our High Risk List for 23 years. Continued DOD leadership is essential to reducing risks and ensuring broader implementation of best practices in all aspects of weapon system acquisition. Wondering why we call our report a Quick Look? Flip through it to see short summaries of 53 of the weapons programs, including photographs and stats. *This amount was corrected from a earlier version when the report was revised on 4/9/2015.