Ballistic Missile Defense:

More Common Systems and Components Could Result in Cost Savings

NSIAD-99-101: Published: May 21, 1999. Publicly Released: May 21, 1999.

Additional Materials:


Louis J. Rodrigues
(202) 512-4841


Office of Public Affairs
(202) 512-4800

GAO reviewed the Department of Defense's (DOD) efforts to incorporate common subsystems and components in its ballistic missile defense acquisition programs, focusing on: (1) the key benefits that the Ballistic Missile Defense Organization (BMDO) and service officials believe could be achieved through commonality; (2) what BMDO and the services have done to incorporate commonality into their programs; and (3) BMDO's plans for instilling commonality in the future.

GAO noted that: (1) according to BMDO and service officials, the key benefits of commonality--using the same or interchangeable subsystems and components in more than one weapon--are cost savings and improved interoperability among BMDO systems; (2) increased use of common items can reduce both production costs and total life-cycle costs of a system; (3) because BMDO systems must interoperate with each other, DOD officials said that commonality is directly linked to the success of interoperability; (4) while commonality is theoretically possible at any level of a weapon system, BMDO has achieved commonality primarily at lower levels of assembly such as in components; (5) according to BMDO and program officials, they have had limited success in designing common systems or major subsystems mostly because of differences in system requirements and operating environments and difficulties in incorporating new technologies into systems with mature designs; (6) these officials said that the greatest benefits of commonality can be produced at the component level; (7) BMDO has sought to promote commonality within its ballistic missile defense systems through the use of an open systems approach and technology insertion at the component level--an approach that seeks to use commonly available commercial products in DOD systems, rather than developing program unique components; (8) BMDO officials said that they expect more commonality in the future for a variety of reasons, such as having fewer suppliers and more opportunities to upgrade systems with newer technologies; (9) although BMDO tries to promote commonality in its programs, it does not have a structured process to systematically identify promising common technologies and has provided little funding to evaluate the feasibility of the use of these technologies; (10) although some technologies have been identified and preliminary estimates show that they could save substantial dollar amounts, these technologies must be thoroughly evaluated; (11) without adequate evaluation, program offices and their prime contractors are reluctant to convert to unproven technologies; and (12) to better achieve commonality, BMDO needs to establish a structured effort or program with appropriate funding to identify and evaluate potential common systems and components.

Recommendation for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The agency has established the Near Term Technology Insertion Program, which seeks to identify technologies that can be inserted into a ballistic missile defense program in less than 3 years. The technology should be common to more than one major program. Current plans are to earmark $4 million from each of the 5 major ballistic missile defense programs. There are 21 technologies being evaluated, although none have yet been approved.

    Recommendation: In light of potential cost savings that will enhance the affordability of ballistic missile defense programs, the Secretary of Defense should take steps to ensure that BMDO implements plans to establish a structured program, with appropriate milestones and funding, to identify and evaluate potential common systems and components for its missile defense systems.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense


Explore the full database of GAO's Open Recommendations »

Mar 4, 2021

Feb 26, 2021

Feb 25, 2021

Feb 24, 2021

Feb 22, 2021

Jan 21, 2021

Jan 19, 2021

Jan 14, 2021

Looking for more? Browse all our products here