Space Acquisitions:

DOD Is Making Progress to Rapidly Deliver Low Cost Space Capabilities, but Challenges Remain

GAO-08-516: Published: Apr 25, 2008. Publicly Released: Apr 25, 2008.

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The Department of Defense (DOD) invests heavily in space assets to provide the warfighter with intelligence, navigation, and other information critical to conducting military operations. In fiscal year 2008 alone, DOD expects to spend over $22 billion dollars on space systems. Despite this investment, senior military commanders have reported shortfalls in tactical space capabilities in each recent major conflict over the past decade. To provide short-term tactical capabilities as well as identify and implement long-term solutions to developing low cost satellites, DOD initiated operationally responsive space (ORS). Following a 2006 GAO review of ORS, the Congress directed DOD to submit a report that sets forth a plan for providing quick acquisition of low cost space capabilities. This report focuses on the status of DOD's progress in responding to the Congress and is based on GAO's review and analyses of ORS documentation and interviews with DOD and industry officials.

Since GAO last reported on DOD's ORS efforts in 2006, the department has taken several steps toward establishing a program management structure for ORS and executing research and development efforts. On the programmatic side, DOD provided Congress with a plan that lays out an organizational structure and defines the responsibilities of the newly created Joint ORS Office, and describes an approach for satisfying warfighters' needs. DOD has also begun staffing the office. On the research and development side, DOD has launched one of its TacSat satellites--small experimental satellites intended to quickly provide a capability that meets an identified need within available resources--and has begun developing several others. It has also made progress in developing interface standards for satellite buses--the platform that provides power, altitude, temperature control, and other support to the satellite in space--and continued its sponsorship of efforts aimed at acquiring low cost launch vehicles. Despite this progress, it is too early to determine the overall success of these efforts because most are still in their initial phases. Achieving success in ORS will be challenging. With relatively modest resources, the Joint ORS Office must quickly respond to the warfighter's urgent needs, while continuing research and development efforts that are necessary to help reduce the cost and time of future space acquisitions. As it negotiates these priorities, the office will need to coordinate its efforts with a broad array of programs and agencies in the science and technology, acquisition, and operational communities. Historically, it has been difficult to transition programs from the science and technology environment to the acquisition and operational environment. At this time, DOD lacks a plan that lays out how it will direct its investments to meet current operational needs while pursuing innovative approaches and new technologies.

Recommendation for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: The Secretary of the Air Force concurred with this recommendation. According to a letter from the Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense, Networks and Information Integration, the plan will be vetted among the various stakeholders within the Operationally Responsive Space community by way of the Executive Committee and subsequently provided as guidance in implementing the initiative. However, the implementation plan has not been completed.

    Recommendation: To better ensure that DOD meets the ORS initiative's goal, the Secretary of the Air Force should develop an investment plan to guide the Joint ORS Office as it works to meet urgent needs and develops a technological foundation to meet future needs. The plan should be approved by the stakeholders and identify how to achieve future capabilities, establish funding priorities, and identify and implement mechanisms to ensure progress is being achieved.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense: Department of the Air Force


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