Space Acquisitions:

DOD's Goals for Resolving Space Based Infrared System Software Problems Are Ambitious

GAO-08-1073: Published: Sep 30, 2008. Publicly Released: Sep 30, 2008.

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In 1996, DOD initiated the Space Based Infrared System (SBIRS) to replace the nation's current missile detection system, and to provide expanded missile warning capability. Since then, SBIRS has been restructured several times to stem cost increases and schedule delays, including revising program goals in 2002, 2004, and 2005. These actions were partly due to the challenges of developing sophisticated technologies and software. In 2007, SBIRS had a major setback when flight software for the first satellite underwent testing and failed, a failure caused by design issues. DOD developed a plan for resolving these issues, and revised its cost and schedule goals. GAO has assessed (1) the approach used to mitigate the problems, and (2) the cost and schedule risks and challenges of that approach. To conduct our work, GAO has contacted, met with, and performed detailed work at numerous DOD and contractor offices; and reviewed technical documents on flight software.

To mitigate the SBIRS flight software problems, DOD has assessed various alternatives and developed a way to implement the software redesign and oversee its development. In April 2008, DOD approved the redesign effort, which addressed problems with the original design that affected the timing of stored programs, distribution of control between processors, and failure at the hardware interface level. Six review teams comprised of 70 personnel in all evaluated the designs to ensure the technical solutions, development approach, and readiness of test facilities were adequate. DOD and its contractor are now implementing the simplified architecture, developing new software, and testing elements critical to the integration and test of systems. DOD is also improving its program oversight and better managing the SBIRS development, by acting on the recommendations of an Independent Program Assessment; addressing weaknesses in management responsibility, accountability and organizational structure; and establishing a central execution team. DOD has estimated that the SBIRS program will be delayed by 15 months and cost $414 million in funding to resolve the flight software problems, but these estimates appear optimistic. For example, confidence levels--based on the program's ability to develop, integrate, and test software in time to meet the schedule goal--have been assessed as low. Further, the review teams who approved the designs to start coding software report that the program's aggressive schedule is a major challenge because it allows "little margin for error." DOD has also introduced risk by granting waivers to streamline the software development processes to meet the aggressive schedule. These allow the program to deviate from disciplined processes in order to compress the schedule and meet the goal. In addition, some software elements are behind schedule, and thousands of software activities and deliverables remain to be integrated. Delay by these other programs could create unintended consequences for the SBIRS launch goal. If DOD should need additional time or encounter problems beyond what was planned for, more funds will be needed and launch of the first satellite in December 2009 could be jeopardized.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: The launch of the first Resolving Space Based Infrared System (SBIRS) GEO satellite has slipped at least nine months and the AF has not yet developed a new cost or schedule baseline.

    Recommendation: To better ensure that SBIRS can meet the cost and schedule goals for resolving the flight software problems as well as launch the first satellite on schedule, the Secretary of Defense should revise the cost and schedule estimates based on more realistic assumptions to increase the confidence of success.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

  2. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: Although DoD agrees that adherence to disciplined software development processes improves the quality and predictability of the software development while reducing the amount of rework, the program office has accepted two process waivers from the contractor "to streamline the development process and reduce the schedule risk associated with the December 2009 projected launch date." Although the program office states that the process waivers have had no adverse impacts to the FSS development, FSS development is nevertheless behind schedule and the launch has been delayed an additional nine months.

    Recommendation: To better ensure that SBIRS can meet the cost and schedule goals for resolving the flight software problems as well as launch the first satellite on schedule, the Secretary of Defense should require that the contractor make adherence to disciplined software practices a priority to reduce program risk.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense


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