Standard Missile-3 Block IIB Analysis of Alternatives

GAO-13-382R Published: Feb 11, 2013. Publicly Released: Feb 11, 2013.
Jump To:
Skip to Highlights

What GAO Found

GAO has previously reported that the SM-3 Block IIB program did not conduct a formal analysis of alternatives (AoA) prior to beginning technology development. AoAs provide insight into the technical feasibility and costs of alternatives by determining if a concept can be developed and produced within existing resources. Although the Missile Defense Agency (MDA) is not required to do an AoA for its programs because of its acquisition flexibilities, GAO has previously reported that an AoA can be a key step to ensure that new programs have a sound acquisition basis.

While program management officials identified two reviews that they consider similar to an AoA, the reviews were not intended to be AoAs, and they did not address all of the key questions that would normally be included as part of an AoA. For example, the reviews did not consider the life-cycle costs for each alternative or the programmatic risks of the alternatives. Further, while the reviews did consider alternatives that could provide validated capabilities, the range of alternatives considered did not include other (non-Aegis) missile options that could provide an additional layer of defense to the United States. This narrow range of alternatives is particularly problematic because it limits the quality of the answers that can be provided for other key questions.

As the program has progressed, additional analysis has led to changes in the initial program assumptions and results that suggest additional development and investment will be needed by the program to defend the United States. MDA initially assumed that SM-3 Block IIB interceptors would be based on land at host nation facilities in Romania and Poland. However, subsequent MDA analyses demonstrated:

1. The Romania site was not a good location from a flight path standpoint for defending the United States with the SM-3 Block IIB.

2. The Poland site may require the development of the ability to launch the interceptor earlier--during the boost phase of the threat missile--to be useful for defense of the United States.

3. A ship-based SM-3 Block IIB in the North Sea is a better location for defense of the United States and it does not require launch during boost capabilities.

While MDA's initial assumption was the missile was to be land-based, the program is now requiring the SM-3 Block IIB to be ship and land compatible. However, if the SM-3 Block IIB is sea based and uses a liquid propellant, there are significant safety risks and unknown but likely significant cost implications. Navy has stated that the program may develop concepts with liquid propellants, but it has not made a final decision regarding whether it will overturn its 1988 ban on liquid propellants on ships and allow a sea-based SM-3 Block IIB to use liquid propellants.

To some extent, this progression has been driven by the early decision to narrow solutions to an Aegis-based missile without the benefit of a robust analysis of other alternatives. While this does not mean the SM-3 Block IIB is not a viable choice, GAO has previously reported that without fully exploring alternatives, programs may not achieve an optimal concept for the war fighter, are at risk for cost increases, and can face schedule delays or technology maturity challenges.

Why GAO Did This Study

This letter formally transmits the briefing GAO provided on January 29, 2013 to the House Armed Services Subcommittee on Strategic Forces. This is the first report GAO is issuing in response to a Congressional September 4, 2012, request that GAO examine several issues related to the European Phased Adaptive Approach (EPAA), which is a policy announced by the President in September 2009 for missile defense of Europe and the United States that is planned to provide increased defense capability over time. This report covers one part of the request, how alternatives were evaluated for the Standard Missile-3 (SM-3) Block IIB, a planned missile for that effort. The remaining topics Congress requested will be addressed in future GAO work. The SM-3 Block IIB's planned primary mission is to help defend the United States by providing an added layer of defense to that already provided by ground based interceptors in California and Alaska. It is planned to have significantly greater capabilities than prior versions of the SM-3, which defend against different threats. It is also expected to contribute to regional defense against medium- and intermediate-range ballistic missiles. The SM-3 Block IIB program began in June 2010. The SM-3 Block IIB is planned to be fielded by 2022 at the earliest as part of the fourth phase of U.S. missile defense in Europe.

GAO's specific objectives were: (1) To what extent was an analysis of alternatives (AoA) or AoA-like analysis conducted for the SM-3 Block IIB? and (2) Has there been subsequent analysis that affects the factors underlying the original decision to pursue the SM-3 Block IIB?

For more information, contact Cristina Chaplain at (202) 512-4841 or at

Full Report