The U.S. Nuclear Triad:

GAO's Evaluation of the Strategic Modernization Program

T-PEMD-93-5: Published: Jun 10, 1993. Publicly Released: Jun 10, 1993.

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GAO discussed the U.S. strategic triad, focusing on the cost-effectiveness of the principal weapon system upgrades in the triad's air, land, and sea legs. GAO noted that: (1) strategic bombers have added a stabilizing effect on the triad's air leg, since they are able to be recalled after deployment and incapable of effecting a surprise attack; (2) the B-2 aircraft's overall performance is difficult to assess because of the limited number and nature of flight tests; (3) air leg armament upgrades have not significantly contributed to the cruise missile's operational performance or capabilities; (4) the sea leg is the strongest, most cost-effective component of the triad; (5) the vulnerability of the triad's land leg has been overstated because of incorrect assumptions regarding Soviet capabilities; (6) there is a lack of reliable data concerning intercontinental ballistic missile performance; (7) problems in the Department of Defense's (DOD) strategic program evaluations have included threat forecasting, testing, and reporting; and (8) comparative studies are needed to justify a proposed system's threat and performance capabilities and relative costs.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: DOD has determined that it will continue D-5 testing at a reduced rate.

    Recommendation: Given the importance of the D-5 missile to the sea leg of the triad, and given the importance of flight testing to achieve an understanding of missile performance, the Secretary of Defense should ensure that: (1) D-5 SLBM flight testing continues; and (2) the D-5 test rate is not from levels required to confidently assess weapon system capability.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

  2. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: DOD has determined that it will retain the Minuteman III force for the duration of its life cycle.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Defense should reconsider DOD funding needs for and the cost-effectiveness of extensive major life-service upgrades for the Minuteman III force, taking into consideration the: (1) Air Force's $23-billion estimate for upgrading and maintaining the Minuteman III through 2020; (2) reduced-threat environment; and (3) likelihood that substantive modifications will require robust flight test programs that would quickly use up limited test assets.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

  3. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: DOD rejected GAO's analysis that B-1B range had not been reliably tested. Standard follow-on test and evaluation tests for reliability and electronic countermeasures are being conducted but did not adequately address these other issues.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Defense should require further operational testing of the B-1B to: (1) verify that scheduled improvements in reliability and electronic countermeasures are achieved; and (2) remove remaining uncertainties concerning range performance.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

  4. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: DOD requested funding for five more B-2s, for a force of 20. Congress concurred with DOD's budget request for five more B-2 aircraft.

    Recommendation: Because there are no strategic grounds for acquiring five more B-2s, adding such capability to the B-2 strategic bomber design will be complex, time-consuming, and extremely costly, its capability to perform intended conventional and strategic missions remains unproven, and other alternatives exist, the Secretary of Defense should not procure five more B-2s.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

  5. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: It is not yet clear that testing has addressed the identified problems. No GAO work has been done to examine the realism of subsequent ACM/ALCM testing; therefore, it has not been determined by GAO whether subsequent testing has met the recommendation.

    Recommendation: To ensure the effectiveness of the cruise missile inventory, the Secretary of Defense should ensure that more realistic flight tests are performed of air-launched cruise missile (ALCM) survivability and of both ALCM and advanced cruise missile performance over terrain that has not been pretested.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

 

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