An Unclassified Version of a Classified Report Entitled 'The Navy's Strategic Communications Systems--Need for Management Attention and Decisionmaking'

PSAD-79-48A: Published: May 2, 1979. Publicly Released: May 2, 1979.

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The Navy maintains two squadrons of TACAMO aircraft for communications with strategic submarines during an emergency. This system is considered the Navy's only survivable link to the strategic submarine force. The Navy must now take actions to upgrade TACAMO through a $22 million Service Life Extension Program for aging TACAMO aircraft and the procurement of new TACAMO aircraft costing about $380 million to replace aircraft whose service life will end in the 1980's.

The need for an extremely low frequency communications system is questionable. The modified system cannot be justified because of: (1) the extensive duplications and reliability of existing systems; (2) the high likelihood that submarine antennas will not be detected and will not endanger the strategic submarines; (3) the fact that strategic submarines are survivable now and will continue to be survivable for the foreseeable future; (4) the limited applicability of the extremely low frequency system to attack submarine missions and operations; and (5) the lack of compatibility between the extremely low frequency system design specifications and strategic and attack submarine operational requirements. The proposed modified extremely low frequency system is no more survivable than existing day-to-day communications systems and there is doubt that the system will work as planned even if it is needed.

Matter for Congressional Consideration

  1. Status: Closed

    Comments: Please call 202/512-6100 for additional information.

    Matter: Only about $13 million has been set aside in the 1980 budget for continuing research and development of the extremely low frequency system. GAO does not believe Congress should consider funding any full-scale system development or construction until the Navy specifies: (1) definitive communications goals and requirements; (2) demonstrates a clear need for such a system; (3) shows that the proposed system contributes to strategic submarine survivabiliity and flexibility beyond what already exists; and (4) conducts a detailed analysis of the extremely low frequency system's capability compared to the strategic submarine's operational environments, and documents the results of the analysis.

Recommendation for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed

    Comments: Please call 202/512-6100 for additional information.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Defense should terminate any plans to construct an extremely low frequency system transmitter and to install extremely low frequency system receivers on strategic submarines. It is the opinion of GAO that the extremely low frequency communications system is not needed; enhances communications capability only marginally at best; and, at a price of $283 million, cannot be justified. GAO believes, however, that some level of research on the extremely low frequency system should continue in the event a need should be demonstrated in the future for an improved communications capability.

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