The Department of Homeland Security Needs to Fully Adopt a Knowledge-based Approach to Its Counter-MANPADS Development Program

GAO-04-341R: Published: Jan 30, 2004. Publicly Released: Jan 30, 2004.

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In late 2002, terrorists fired surface-to-air missiles at an Israeli airliner departing from Mombasa, Kenya--the first time man-portable air defense systems (MANPADS) had been used to attack commercial aircraft in a non-combat zone. Given concerns about the vulnerability of the commercial airline industry and the potential impact of an attack in the United States, the House Committee on Armed Services and the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, Aviation Subcommittee, requested that we conduct an assessment of the federal government's efforts to address the MANPADS threat against commercial aircraft, including its nature and extent; the Department of Defense's monitoring of Stinger missiles exported to other countries; and U.S. bilateral and multilateral efforts to address international MANPADS proliferation. After we began work on this assessment, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) took steps to initiate a 2-year system development and demonstration program for a counter-MANPADS system and awarded the initial contracts in January 2004. On December 4, 2003, we briefed Congress on our views about DHS's approach to developing the system. This report summarizes that information and transmits the portion of the briefing related to DHS's counter-MANPADS development effort. Our assessment of the other federal efforts to address the threat is ongoing, and we expect to complete our report in the spring of 2004.

DHS faces significant challenges in adapting a military counter-MANPADS system to commercial aircraft. These challenges include establishing system requirements, maturing technology and design, and setting reliable cost estimates. For instance, DHS has to account for a wide variety of aircraft types in designing and integrating the system. Our past work on the best practices of product developers in government and industry has found that the use of a knowledge-based approach is a key factor in successfully addressing such challenges. This approach includes the use of exit criteria or controls to ensure that sufficient knowledge has been attained at critical phases of the product development process. Based on input we provided during the course of our review, DHS updated its initial solicitation to incorporate these knowledge-based exit criteria. We think this a positive first step, and we are recommending that the Secretary of Homeland Security ensure that the knowledgebased approach is fully implemented throughout the course of its counter-MANPADS development program. DHS fully concurred.

Recommendation for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In October 2006 DHS Science and Technology Directorate awarded contracts to support efforts to develop aircraft-based solutions to protect commercial aircraft from man-portable air defense systems (MANPADS). The firms would evaluate and demonstrate over an 18 month period emerging counter-MANPADS technology solutions that show the most promise in defeating the threat. DHS and DOD was to assess the maturity and effectiveness of relevant technologies, and application of resources. DHS said the early two phases of development showed that system reliability was not where it needed to be for the commercial environment and chose to add a third phase. Military systems with a mean time between failure (MTBF) of 300 to 400 hours was not considered suitable for the commercial environment. In Phase III, an operational test and evaluation phase, the systems were to demonstrate the ability to achieve a Mean Time Between Failure of 3,000 hours, get operations and support costs to $350 per flight and bring the system price down to $1 million per copy when produced in lots of 1,000. Phase III operational tests ended this summer, with a report due to Congress by the end of the year. However, while the results of the final tests are pending there is concern that the future of the program is uncertain. The Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA)in a July 2008 white paper concurred with the Air Transport Association that the airlines cannot afford the cost of buying and maintaining counter MANPADS systems for their fleets. The ALPA instead supports development, certification, and installing the Propulsion-Controlled Aircraft (PCA) system which they believe would be a fraction of the cost of installing MANPADS countermeasures. The PCA is a computer-assisted engine control system that enables a pilot to land an airplane safely when its normal control surfaces such as elevators, rudders, and ailerons are disabled. PCA enables the flight crew to safely fly and land an airplane equipped with a flight management system (FMS) and full-authority digital engine control (FADEC) whose flight control systems have been rendered inoperative. NASA has successfully demonstrated this technology on several types of airplanes, including those in the large transport category. The current FY2010 budget has not requested further funding for the counter MANPADS program.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Homeland Security should fully adopt the knowledgebased approach, including the use of exit criteria, to help ensure that key decisions in DHS's effort to develop and demonstrate a counter-MANPADS system are based on sufficient information.

    Agency Affected: Department of Homeland Security: Directorate of Science and Technology


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