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Defense > 2. Ground Radar and Guided Munitions Programs

The Department of Defense should take steps to minimize the risk of future duplication within its ground radar and guided munitions weapons systems.

Why This Area Is Important

The Department of Defense (DOD) and the military services spend over $150 billion each year on the development and procurement of weapons and other defense systems to fulfill their roles and missions. Among many other systems, DOD and the military services invest in ground radars and air-to-ground precision guided munitions. Ground radars are ground-based sensor systems used by the Army, Air Force, and Marine Corps to detect and track a variety of targets. These radars perform missions such as air surveillance, air defense, and counterfire target acquisition, among others. Air-to-ground precision guided munitions are weapons launched from Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marine Corps aircraft that are intended to accurately engage and destroy enemy targets on the ground.

The House Armed Services Committee has previously raised questions about potential overlap in the ground radar area. For example, in 2012, House report 112-479 for the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2013 noted overlap with the Army and Marine Corps ground radar programs’ missions. The report encouraged the Army and Marine Corps to collaborate and identify overlapping requirements and determine if they could procure a single system rather than having each service procuring and maintaining separate systems. In the Senate report 113-44 accompanying the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2014, the Senate Armed Services Committee raised questions about potential duplication within DOD’s ground radar and air-to-ground precision guided munitions programs, which led to GAO’s December 2014 report.

DOD’s requirements and acquisition policies contain provisions to help avoid redundancy and consider existing alternatives before starting new acquisition programs. DOD guidance states that when validating key requirements documents, the chair of the group responsible for that capability area is also certifying that the proposed requirements and capabilities are not unnecessarily redundant to existing capabilities in the joint force. In some cases, redundancy may be advisable for operational reasons. The validation authority for a requirements document depends on factors such as the potential dollar value of a program, and determines the level of oversight a requirement document receives. The validation authority for major defense acquisition programs—known as acquisition category I programs—is the Joint Requirements Oversight Council (JROC).  The JROC is chaired by the Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and includes one senior leader from each of the military services, among others. Documents that require JROC review receive a “JROC Interest” designation.

What GAO Found

GAO’s December 2014 report examined the extent to which potential overlap or duplication exists in ground radar programs and in air-to-ground precision guided munitions programs. In both areas, GAO found that opportunities exist to reduce the risk of future duplication.

Ground Radar Programs

GAO found overlap and potential duplication among several ground radar programs.[1] In particular, based on analysis of program requirements documents, GAO found that the Marine Corps’ Ground/Air Task Oriented Radar (G/ATOR) Block I and Air Force’s Three-Dimensional Expeditionary Long-Range Radar (3DELRR) acquisition programs have some key overlapping requirements and provide similar capabilities in their air surveillance and air defense roles. However, the JROC ultimately determined that any redundancy between requirements was necessary. In addition, based on analysis of program requirements documents, GAO found that the Army’s AN/TPQ-53 Counterfire Radar and the Marine Corps’ G/ATOR Block II have some overlapping requirements. Both radar systems detect, track, classify, and locate the origin of enemy projectiles, including mortar, artillery, and rocket systems and are to replace existing Army and Marine Corps Firefinder radars that perform counterfire target acquisition missions. While many of the requirements overlap, the AN/TPQ-53 does not meet the G/ATOR Block II detection range requirements for multiple target types. In addition to some unique requirements, urgent operational needs and different acquisition approaches led the Army and Marine Corps to establish separate acquisition programs for counterfire target acquisition radars.

However, GAO found that the JROC did not review whether the capabilities of the Army’s AN/TPQ-53 and the Marine Corps’ G/ATOR Block II were unnecessarily redundant or duplicative as part of the requirements validation process. The JROC did not validate the Army’s AN/TPQ-53 performance requirements because it was initially an urgent wartime need and did not meet the dollar threshold to automatically trigger a review. However, the AN/TPQ-53 later transitioned to the more traditional acquisition process, at which point the JROC could have reviewed the program. Instead, the Joint Staff delegated the validation authority for the AN/TPQ-53 requirements to the Army, which validated them in 2010. The JROC had previously validated the G/ATOR Block II requirements documents in 2005, prior to the Army starting the AN/TPQ-53 program. Because the Joint Staff delegated the validation authority for the AN/TPQ-53 to the Army, the JROC may have missed an opportunity to review whether the capabilities of the AN/TPQ-53 and G/ATOR Block II were unnecessarily redundant or duplicative, or to encourage additional areas of cooperation between the Army and the Marine Corps.

There may be other opportunities for increased service cooperation to meet future ground radar needs, but in order for key decision makers, such as the JROC, to take advantage of them, it is important for them to have insight into ground radar programs, including programs that do not meet the dollar thresholds that trigger a “JROC Interest” designation and automatic review. A “JROC Interest” designation provides the JROC the opportunity to review ground radar performance requirements and capabilities for potential duplication and CAPE with the opportunity to develop broad AOA guidance. This type of visibility would put DOD in a better position to take the actions necessary to make the most efficient use of its resources.

Air-to-Ground Precision Guided Munitions Programs

GAO’s analysis of DOD’s active air-to-ground precision guided munitions found evidence of overlapping target sets among the munitions, but unique factors—such as what type of aircraft a munition can be launched from, the munition’s seeker capability in varying weather conditions, and the cost of the munition for the desired effect—clearly distinguish them from one another. In addition, where some overlap was found, DOD officials explained the overlap was necessary to provide flexibility for military operations.

Based on analysis of a number of factors, GAO did not find evidence that DOD’s capabilities in air-to-ground precision guided munitions programs were duplicative. Additionally, none of the DOD or military service requirements and acquisition organizations GAO spoke to identified unnecessary redundancy or duplication within air-to-ground precision guided munitions. In general, DOD officials described the air-to-ground precision guided munitions area as efficient in terms of the investments DOD has made. GAO found that cooperation among the military services contributed to the current lack of duplication.

Although DOD’s active air-to-ground precision guided munitions programs are not duplicative, potential for duplication exists in the future. GAO found one example of potential future duplication in the Army’s and the Navy’s procurement of air-to-ground rocket guidance kits, which could result in DOD not fully leveraging its buying power. Both the Army and the Navy plan to buy the Advanced Precision Kill Weapon System through fiscal year 2015 to meet their guided rocket needs, but starting in fiscal year 2016, they may pursue separate, potentially duplicative, efforts. There are costs and benefits associated with both the Army and Navy’s acquisition approaches; however, if the Army and Navy fulfill their guided rocket needs separately instead of cooperatively, it could result in the inefficient use of weapon system investment dollars and a loss of buying power.

[1]GAO’s review focused on ground radars that perform three types of missions: (1) air surveillance, in which radars search, detect, and track cruise missiles, fixed and rotary wing aircraft, and unmanned aircraft systems; (2) air defense, in which radars provide data that enables other weapon systems, such as air and missile defense or aircraft, to take offensive or defense actions against enemy cruise missiles, fixed and rotary wing aircraft, and unmanned aircraft systems; and (3) counterfire target acquisition, in which radars detect and track enemy rockets, artillery, and mortars to determine enemy firing positions and impact areas for incoming fire.

Actions Needed

In December 2014, GAO recommended that DOD take the following two actions:

  • To provide the JROC the opportunity to review all ground radar programs for potential duplication and CAPE with the opportunity to develop broad analysis of alternative guidance, the Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff should direct the Joint Staff to assign all new ground radar capability requirement documents with a Joint Staff designation of “JROC Interest.”
  • To address potential overlap or duplication in the acquisition of rocket guidance kits, the Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology, and Logistics should require the Army and Navy to assess whether a single solution and cooperative, preferably competitive, contracting strategy offers the most cost effective way to meet both services’ needs.

DOD could potentially realize increased efficiencies through these improvements. However, the actual cost savings associated with these actions is unknown, because they are related to potential future acquisition programs whose costs have not yet been determined. As a result, GAO cannot quantify potential financial benefits associated with the recommended actions. In general, taking these actions could help result in a more efficient use of weapon system investment dollars and an increase in buying power.

How GAO Conducted Its Work

The information contained in this analysis is based on findings from the product listed in the related GAO product section. To determine the extent of potential overlap or duplication across ground radar and air-to-ground precision guided munitions programs, GAO reviewed acquisition programs currently in development or production, or “active” programs. GAO reviewed and analyzed documentation on system requirements, capabilities, and other distinguishing factors to determine if potential overlap or duplication exists. GAO interviewed DOD officials regarding any instances where we identified potential overlap or duplication. GAO also reviewed DOD analysis and interviewed DOD officials to identify instances in which DOD found potential overlap or duplication during acquisition and requirements reviews and what actions DOD took in response.

Agency Comments & GAO Contact

In commenting on the December 2014 report on which this analysis is based, DOD partially concurred with GAO’s first recommendation and concurred with the second recommendation. DOD noted that assigning all new ground radar capability requirement documents with a Joint Staff designation of “JROC Interest” would ignore the tiered Joint Staff designation system process. DOD also noted that this would lessen the impact and importance of the Functional Capabilities Boards and their role to ensure minimization of duplication across the portfolio. GAO maintains that without this designation for all new ground radar programs, DOD may miss additional opportunities to encourage collaboration across the military services. Although DOD concurred with GAO’s second recommendation, DOD stated that it has a process to consider redundancies across the services’ programs, but it was unclear what actions it planned to take to assess if the services could use a single contracting strategy to meet its guided rocket needs. GAO maintains that DOD should assess this option as part of its consideration of potential redundancies

GAO provided a draft of this report section to the Department of Defense for review and comment. The department did not provide comments on this report section.

For additional information about this area, contact Michael J. Sullivan at (202) 512-4841 or

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