Acquisition of the Over-the-Horizon Backscatter Radar System Should Be Reevaluated

C-MASAD-83-14: Published: Mar 15, 1983. Publicly Released: Mar 15, 1983.

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GAO examined the Over-the-Horizon Backscatter (OTH-B) radar system which the Air Force has designed to provide a long-range tactical warning capability to help counter a Soviet precursor bomber attack on the continental United States.

GAO found that acquisition costs are estimated to be almost $1 billion for east and west coast OTH-B facilities, including three radar sectors, and about $1.3 billion if a third facility is added. Although the OTH-B program experienced difficulties during its prototype and experimental phases, the Air Force plans to begin production of the radar system before development is completed. Further, initial development testing is not planned to begin until production is far advanced. The Air Force assesses the cost, schedule, and technical risks associated with the current program as low to moderate. GAO noted that it is too early in the cost schedule to predict whether serious problems will in fact occur. GAO concluded that, despite Air Force insistence that such a capability is needed in case of a Soviet bomber attack, GAO questioned the need to acquire the OTH-B radar system considering the probability of such an attack.

Recommendation for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Defense should direct the Air Force to fully reassess the need and justify the decision to acquire the OTH-B radar system. Specifically, factors to be considered are the threat, the status of efforts to develop more endurable tactical warning systems, and the potential and cost effectiveness of using existing airborne warning assets to strengthen surveillance coverage against a surprise bomber attack until a system more endurable than OTH-B can be deployed.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense


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