The Pentagon considers defenses to counter attacks from ballistic missiles, both long-range strategic and shorter-range theater missiles, to be critical to U.S. national security. The Air Force is developing a new satellite system, called Space-Based Infrared System-low (SBIRS-low) to expand the military's infrared satellite capabilities for supporting ballistic missile defenses. GAO reviewed the Defense Department's (DOD) efforts to acquire SBIRS-low. Specifically, GAO (1) evaluated the cost, schedule, and performance risks of the current acquisition schedule; (2) evaluated the program's technical risks; and (3) determined whether DOD has assessed alternative approaches to SBIRS-low. GAO found that the Air Force's current SBIRS-low acquisition schedule is of high risk of not delivering the system on time or at cost or with expected performance. SBIRS-low has high technical risks because some critical satellite technologies have been judged immature for the current stage of the program. DOD acquisition policy and procedures require that the cost and mission effectiveness of space systems be assessed relative to alternative terrestrial systems. However, the Air Force has not analyzed or identified terrestrial alternatives to the SBIRS-low system because, according to Air Force Space Command officials, terrestrial alternatives do not exist. Nevertheless, studies on various aspects of the National Missile Defense system by the Ballistic Missile Defense Organization and other groups have pointed out alternatives to SBIRS-low, such as sea- or land-based radar.
Recommendations for Executive Action
|Department of Defense||1. In order to reduce the cost, schedule, performance, and technical risks in the SBIRS-low program, the Secretary of Defense should direct the Secretary of the Air Force, with the approval of the Director of the Ballistic Missile Defense Organization, to develop a schedule that reduces concurrency and risks, and that sets more realistic and achievable cost, schedule, and performance goals.|
|Department of Defense||2. The Secretary of Defense should assess the impact of the revised SBIRS-low procurement schedule on the National Missile Defense program and provide the results of the assessment to Congress.|
|Department of Defense||3. The Secretary of Defense should direct the Director, Ballistic Missile Defense Organization, to analyze and develop, as appropriate, and in compliance with DOD acquisition policy and procedures, alternative approaches to satisfy critical missile defense midcourse tracking and discrimination requirements in case SBIRS-low cannot be deployed when needed.|