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Regional Missile Defense: DOD's Report Provided Limited Information; Assessment of Acquisition Risks is Optimistic

GAO-14-248R Published: Mar 14, 2014. Publicly Released: Mar 14, 2014.
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What GAO Found

The Department of Defense's (DOD) statutorily-mandated report on Regional Ballistic Missile Defense generally described plans and processes for regional missile defense. However, for the topics Congress required DOD to address, DOD has more comprehensive information which it could have provided to better reflect its current efforts and activities and which would benefit the congressional defense committees during their authorization and appropriation deliberations. One of these topics is a description of progress in system development and testing for the European Phased Adaptive Approach (a 2009 Presidential policy known as EPAA) and an assessment of technical and schedule risk. DOD's report characterizes technical and schedule risks as being minimized; based on GAO's body of work on missile defense, that characterization is optimistic.

Since GAO's first review of EPAA in 2010, DOD has progressed in establishing some acquisition management practices for EPAA and has delivered some capabilities. But technical, schedule, and other risks remain. While the dates have not changed for declaring when technical capabilities for EPAA are delivered, development delays have reduced both the capability the Missile Defense Agency (MDA) plans to deliver and the understanding of how that capability will perform. GAO sees three challenges DOD faces in its acquisition approach: (1) fully implementing a management process that synchronizes acquisition activities and ensures transparency and accountability; (2) improving execution of development and integration plans to stem fragmentation of development activities, schedule delays, and concurrency between key events; and (3) executing plans for tests and assessments so that these activities can be completed before MDA declares that a technical capability has been delivered.

GAO concluded that MDA's decision to delay delivery of some capabilities for EPAA as compared to initial plans and make subsequent upgrades after EPAA phase declarations reflects the complexity of developing and integrating systems that provide an increasingly capable defense of Europe. While this approach allows flexibility, it does so at the risk of delivering less capability than expected without demonstrating the actual performance of what is delivered. 

Why GAO Did This Study

In response to changing threats in the region and new opportunities created by advances in missile defense technology, in September 2009 the President announced EPAA, a new policy for ballistic missile defense of Europe. EPAA is designed to rely on increasingly capable missiles, sensors, and command and control systems to defend Europe against threat missiles of various ranges. In its February 2010 Ballistic Missile Defense Review, DOD presented EPAA as part of a broader policy for regional ballistic missile defense, to also include phased adaptive approaches for other regions. MDA is developing and integrating capabilities that will be part of EPAA. U.S. Strategic Command works with the military services and regional combatant commands--such as U.S. European Command for EPAA--to determine whether to accept those capabilities. GAO has issued reports in 2010, 2011, 2012, and 2013 containing assessments of EPAA.

The National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2013 (NDAA) mandated that the Secretary of Defense submit to the congressional defense committees a report describing the status and progress of regional missile defense programs and efforts, including EPAA. GAO was also required to provide views on DOD's report. GAO assessed (1) the extent to which DOD's report addressed specific topics Congress required and (2) acquisition risks, if any, which could affect the planned delivery of capability for EPAA. GAO compared DOD's report to the NDAA and to information gathered about regional ballistic missile defense efforts, and discussed this and the report methodology with DOD officials. GAO analyzed MDA's acquisition documentation for EPAA, comparing documents issued since 2010 to identify capability delays and risks, and met with MDA and DOD officials to clarify and corroborate that material.



GAO previously made recommendations related to EPAA and is not making new recommendations in this report. In 2011 GAO recommended that DOD establish an integrated schedule and develop life-cycle cost estimates. In 2012 GAO recommended that DOD assess the extent to which the EPAA capability dates announced in 2009 are contributing to acquisition risk and recommend schedule adjustments. Based on DOD's response and subsequent follow-up, GAO does not expect these to be fully implemented. GAO continues to believe implementing its prior recommendations is important to improve transparency and accountability of acquisitions for EPAA, especially given DOD's commitment to deploy capabilities that are proven, cost-effective, and fiscally sustainable over the long term.

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AccountabilityBallistic missile defenseDefense capabilitiesDefense procurementInternal controlsLife cycle costsNational defense operationsProcurement practicesRisk assessmentSchedule slippagesSystems designThreat levelCost estimatesTransparencyCommand and control systemsDefense budgets