Navy Weapons Testing:

Defense Policy on Early Operational Testing

NSIAD-89-98: Published: May 8, 1989. Publicly Released: May 8, 1989.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO evaluated the extent to which the Navy conducted operational testing and evaluation (OT&E) before it made decisions on full-scale development or low-rate initial production of weapons systems.

GAO found that: (1) the Department of Defense (DOD) incorporated an OT&E phase in its weapons systems acquisition policy to encourage the military services to conduct OT&E during the earliest possible acquisition phase; (2) DOD encouraged the use of operational assessments during early acquisition phases when prototype and hardware costs or availability precluded OT&E; (3) the Navy typically approved weapons systems for full-scale development and low-rate initial production before it completed OT&E; (4) the Navy conducted a limited number of operational assessments to support early milestone decisions, although some of the operational assessments were so limited that they could not project the systems' potential effectiveness or suitability; and (5) the Navy's independent OT&E agency believed that the DOD direction that it prepare operational assessments, based on data from nonindependent sources without actually testing the systems, threatened its impartiality and independence.

Recommendation for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The Office of the Secretary of Defense is updating its DOD Manual 5000.3-M-5, Volume 3, to reflect the recommendation, but Congress enacted an amendment which excludes operational assessments from the statutory definition of OT&E. Therefore, DOD cannot make this proposed change.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Defense should reemphasize the desirability of performing OT&E as early as possible in the acquisition cycle, as called for by DOD acquisition directives. In so doing, the Secretary should clarify when it is appropriate for decisionmakers to rely on operational assessments that may not include the operational testing of any hardware and when actual operational testing and evaluation must occur. In addressing this issue, the Secretary should ensure that the independence of the services' OT&E agencies is not compromised and that the basis for weapon system assessments is fully disclosed when the assessments are reported to congressional and DOD decisionmakers.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense


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