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Highlights

The United States' growing dependence on space systems makes them vulnerable to a range of threats. DOD has undertaken a variety of initiatives to provide space situational awareness (SSA)--the knowledge and characterization of space objects and the environment on which space operations depend. GAO was asked to (1) review key systems being planned and acquired to provide SSA, and their progress meeting cost, schedule, and performance goals; and (2) determine how much an integrated approach is being used to manage and oversee efforts to develop SSA capabilities. To achieve this, GAO analyzed documentation and interviewed key officials on major SSA development efforts and oversight and management of SSA. This report is an unclassified version of a classified report issued in February 2011.

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Recommendations

Recommendations for Executive Action

Agency Affected Recommendation Status
Department of Defense 1. For major space acquisition programs, GAO has consistently made recommendations to help ensure acquisition efforts are placed on a solid footing at program start. For SSA in particular, the Secretary of Defense should direct the Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics to assure--as part of the approval for the Space Fence and JMS acquisition efforts to initiate product development--that all critical technologies are identified and matured to a level they can be demonstrated in a realistic or operational environment, and that other key program risks have been fully assessed to help ensure cost, schedule, and performance goals will be met (for JMS in particular, implementing this recommendation may require dividing the program into separate increments).
Closed - Implemented
DOD implemented the recommendation with regard to the Joint Space Operations Center Mission System (JMS) program, which began product development in June 2013 with mature technologies. Specifically, the program determined that mature commercial off-the-shelf software products were available that obviated the need for technology development under the program. Additionally, the Air Force restructured the JMS program to include an incremental development construct. However, DOD did not implement the recommendation with regard to the Space Fence program. Specifically, the Space Fence program began product development in May 2014 with critical technologies matured to a level they could be demonstrated in a relevant environment--or technology readiness level 6 (TRL 6)--as required by DOD guidance and statute. While DOD guidance and law require acquisition efforts to mature technologies to a level commensurate with TRL 6, our recommendation was based on our best practices work which has shown that achieving a TRL 7--demonstration in a realistic or operational environment--is the level of technology maturity that constitutes low risk for starting a product development program.
Department of Defense 2. For major space acquisition programs, GAO has consistently made recommendations to help ensure acquisition efforts are placed on a solid footing at program start. For SSA in particular, the Secretary of Defense should direct the Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics, if a determination is made that the effort should move forward into product development with less mature technologies, to then conduct an assessment of available backup technologies that may lessen capability and add cost to the programs and the additional time, money, and effort that may be required to meet performance objectives.
Closed - Implemented
The Space Fence program began product development in May 2014 with immature critical technologies, but it assessed backup technologies that could be used if needed. Specifically, Space Fence critical technologies had been matured to a level they could be demonstrated in a relevant environment--or technology readiness level 6 (TRL 6)--as required by DOD guidance and statute. While DOD guidance and law require acquisition efforts to mature technologies to a level commensurate with TRL 6, our recommendation was based on our best practices work which has shown that achieving a TRL 7--demonstration in a realistic or operational environment--is the level of technology maturity that constitutes low risk for starting a product development program. However, for each of the critical technologies the program is tracking, the program office identified backup technologies that may be used, and the consequences of their use, in case the primary technologies cannot be used. The JMS program began product development in June 2013 with mature technologies, and consequently, the GAO recommendation does not apply. Specifically, the program determined that mature commercial off-the-shelf software products were available which obviated the need for technology development under the program.

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