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Highlights

The Department of Defense (DOD) expects to spend more than $50 billion to develop and procure eight major space systems. Typically, the systems have two main components: satellites and ground control systems. Some also have a third component--user terminals--that can allow access from remote locations. If the delivery of these three components is not synchronized, there can be delays in providing full capabilities to the warfighter, and satellites on orbit can remain underutilized for years. Given preliminary indication of uncoordinated deployment, GAO was asked to examine (1) the extent to which satellite, ground control, and user terminal deployments are aligned; (2) the reasons deployments have not always been well coordinated; (3) actions being taken to enhance coordination; and (4) whether enhancements to ground systems could optimize the government's investment. To accomplish this, GAO analyzed plans for all major DOD satellite acquisitions and interviewed key officials.

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Recommendations

Recommendations for Executive Action

Agency Affected Recommendation Status
Department of Defense 1. To help DOD space systems provide more capability to the warfighter through better synchronization and increased commonality, and to provide increased insight into the costs associated with ground assets, the Secretary of Defense should define a basic level of expected synchronization during the development of each space system acquisition based on delivering a capability to the warfighter.
Closed - Not Implemented
DOD concurred with this recommendation and agrees that defining a basic level of expected synchronization during development of new space-based capabilities may better inform acquisition decision makers. DOD notes that they already have an established synchronization measure for military satellite communications (MILSATCOM) capabilities. DOD also acknowledges that a similar measure might be beneficially applied to other space systems; however, delivery of capabilities is dependent on warfighter needs which might not always align with a certain level of synchronization. DOD does not plan to do anything new to implement this recommendation.
Department of Defense 2. To help DOD space systems provide more capability to the warfighter through better synchronization and increased commonality, and to provide increased insight into the costs associated with ground assets, the Secretary of Defense should assess the value of designating an office with responsibility for overseeing the relative progress of satellite, ground, and user terminal programs with the aim of ensuring that problems that could affect the ability to synchronize a space system are known and addressed.
Closed - Implemented
DOD concurred with this recommendation and cited several actions it has already taken to improve space systems acquisitions. DOD also cited two additional actions it is planning to implement to address this recommendation. DOD has indicated that additional acquisition effectiveness might be achieved by assessing the Overarching Integrated Product Team's (OIPT) governance structure of space acquisition programs. DOD has since held an initial OIPT assessment to begin capability-wide reviews of military satellite communications systems. This assessment addressed the discrepancies and shortfalls of existing tools and methods of measuring synchronization between the various satellite communications capability segments. While this has provided benefits, further refinement will be needed to realize substantive benefits.
Department of Defense 3. To help DOD space systems provide more capability to the warfighter through better synchronization and increased commonality, and to provide increased insight into the costs associated with ground assets, the Secretary of Defense should formulate guidance to better align space system components so that all components are available to facilitate optimal operational testing.
Closed - Not Implemented
DOD partially concurred with this recommendation and maintains that in all cases, they will conduct adequate operational testing of space systems. They also indicate they have already taken steps to better align and consolidate space system oversight. However, they also indicate they will not delay providing the warfighter with needed space system capabilities in order to optimize operational testing. DOD does not plan to do anything new to implement this recommendation.
Department of Defense 4. To help DOD space systems provide more capability to the warfighter through better synchronization and increased commonality, and to provide increased insight into the costs associated with ground assets, the Secretary of Defense should develop DOD-wide guidance, specific to space systems, to allow for the integration and consolidation, to the extent feasible, of DOD's current and future satellite ground control systems via common ground architecture or by other similar means.
Closed - Implemented
DOD concurred with this recommendation and agreed that the integration and consolidation of satellite ground control systems has many benefits. On December 26, 2013, Congress signed into law the National Defense Authorization Act for 2014 (H.R. 3304, Sec. 822) which states that for space systems, DOD is to develop a DOD wide long-term plan for satellite ground control systems. DOD stated it will comply with the law as enacted and expects to its report completed by the end of 2014. GAO will continue to track DOD's progress through updates provided for its April 2013 report on satellite control operations, GAO-13-315.
Department of Defense 5. To help DOD space systems provide more capability to the warfighter through better synchronization and increased commonality, and to provide increased insight into the costs associated with ground assets, the Secretary of Defense should provide annual documentation to Congress (in SARs or in other documents) that specifically delineates the cost, and cost performance, associated with (1) the satellites, (2) the ground control systems, and (3) associated user terminals, and as a result, provides the total cost of all planned components of each space system acquisition.
Closed - Not Implemented
DOD concurred with this recommendation and agreed that a report to Congress that highlights the cost and cost performance of satellites, ground control systems, and associated user equipment is valuable to informing congressional oversight. However, DOD also indicated that DOD already provides all this information to Congress via annual Selected Acquisition Reports. This recommendation, as clarified in GAO-10-55's section called Agency Comments and Our Evaluation, states that no Selected Acquisition Report currently captures satellite, ground system, and related user terminal costs in a single document. We found this was needed to provide more accessible and transparent data on total costs for space systems. DOD does not plan to do anything new to implement this recommendation.

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