National Missile Defense:

Risk and Funding Implications for the Space-Based Infrared Low Component

NSIAD-97-16: Published: Feb 25, 1997. Publicly Released: Feb 25, 1997.

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Louis J. Rodrigues
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GAO reviewed the Department of Defense's (DOD) Space-Based Infrared System (SBIRS)-low program to determine the effects of changing the deployment date from fiscal year (FY) 2006, the original schedule, to FY 2002, 2003, 2004, or 2005.

GAO found that: (1) its assessment of four deployment options, FY 2002, FY 2003, FY 2004, and FY 2005, that would accelerate the SBIRS-low program from DOD's originally planned FY 2006 schedule shows some potential differences in risk and variations in funding requirements; (2) the FY 2002 and 2003 options would result in higher program risk because of the high degree of concurrent activities between the planned first year of the flight demonstration and the development and fabrication of SBIRS-low satellites; (3) in addition, although program officials stated that total life cycle costs would not be affected, a substantial amount of additional funding would be required during fiscal years 1997 through 2002 because of compressing the SBIRS-development, fabrication, and deployment schedule; (4) if SBIRS-low deployment were scheduled for FY 2004, the first year of flight demonstration and SBIRS-low engineering and manufacturing development would be sequential, rather than concurrent, allowing time to assess the demonstration results before making a milestone decision on satellite development and fabrication; (5) this schedule would make program risks similar to the FY 2006 schedule, which DOD considers to be low; (6) however, considerable additional funds during fiscal years 1998 through 2003 would be required because of program schedule compression; (7) under the FY 2005 option, flight demonstration and SBIRS-low development and fabrication would also be sequential, rather than concurrent; (8) this schedule would also make program risk similar to the FY 2006 schedule; (9) funding requirements during fiscal years 1998 through 2003, however, would be less than those for DOD's original schedule for a FY 2006 deployment; (10) DOD and Air Force representatives initially informed GAO that fewer funds would be required because of planning for a more efficient production schedule; (11) in commenting on GAO's draft report, however, DOD stated that fewer funds were required because of a different satellite configuration and a lower inflation rate; (12) the widely divergent results associated with these four deployment options are directly linked to how soon SBRIS-low can and should be scheduled to support national and theater ballistic missile defenses; and (13) how Congress and DOD resolve differing views on deployment dates will determine how much program risk may be taken and what the funding requirements would be.

Matters for Congressional Consideration

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: Because of cost and risk factors, DOD now plans to deploy the first SBIRS low satellite in FY206. Congress plans to hold hearings regarding this decision.

    Matter: Congress may wish to consider the costs and risks of DOD's plans to deploy the first SBIRS-low satellite in FY 2004, relative to the statutory requirement in the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 1996 to deploy the first satellite in FY 2002 and revise the requirement as necessary.

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The Congress disagrees with DOD's position for a FY2006 deployment date.

    Matter: If DOD does not provide Congress with complete, consistent, and current information on program risks, revised program costs, and any additional funding needs and sources for the FY 2002, 2003, 2004, and 2005 deployment options for use in making its decision, Congress may wish to require that DOD provide it.

Recommendation for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: DOD decided that the best deployment date was fiscal year 2004, which was communicated to the Congress. DOD has justified its schedule slip because of program risk, cost, and additional funding needs. DOD has communicated this information to the Congress.

    Recommendation: To fully inform Congress about the feasibility and effects of accelerating SBIRS-low, the Secretary of Defense should provide the congressional defense committees with complete, consistent, and current information that discusses program risk, revised program costs, and any additional funding needs and sources for the FY 2002, FY 2003, FY 2004, and FY 2005 deployment options.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense


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