Skip to main content

Nuclear Command, Control, and Communications: Review of DOD's Current Modernization Efforts

GAO-14-414R Published: Mar 18, 2014. Publicly Released: Mar 18, 2014.
Jump To:
Skip to Highlights


What GAO Found

GAO provided an in-depth classified briefing to committee staff on the results of this review in January 2014. GAO briefed on the status of several on-going nuclear command, control, and communications (NC3) modernization efforts within the Department of Defense (DOD), including progress made and remaining challenges to completing those efforts. GAO also reported on DOD's efforts to plan and develop the National Leadership Command Capability, a large initiative to integrate nuclear, senior leader, and continuity of government command, control, and communications capabilities and systems. Further details remain classified. 

Why GAO Did This Study

The NC3 system is a large and complex system of systems comprised of numerous terrestrial, airborne, and space-based components used to assure connectivity between the President and nuclear forces. The current NC3 architecture consists of systems that support day-to-day nuclear and conventional operations prior to a nuclear event, as well as those systems that are to provide survivable, secure, and enduring communications through all threat environments.

The Senate Armed Services Committee report accompanying a bill for the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2013 mandated GAO to assess DOD’s efforts to sustain and improve the NC3 system.  GAO addressed the mandate through three separate engagements: a report on the Family of Advanced Beyond Line-of-Sight Terminals in December 2013, a classified report on operational assessments of the NC3 system in February 2014, and this review, which assessed the extent to which DOD is addressing known NC3 gaps or weaknesses and steps DOD has taken to transform the current NC3 system to provide improved capabilities in the future.

To conduct this review, GAO limited the scope to NC3 component systems that support force direction, decision making, and planning. Given the large number of NC3 systems, situational awareness and force management systems were excluded, allowing for a focus on a more manageable subset of NC3 systems, primarily those that provide communication capabilities. GAO collected and reviewed DOD and other assessments of the NC3 system; reviewed acquisition and planning documents for specific modernization efforts as well as broader efforts to transform the NC3 system; and interviewed cognizant officials from the Joint Staff, U.S. Strategic Command, DOD Office of the Chief Information Officer, Defense Information Systems Agency, National Security Agency, military departments, and Johns Hopkins University’s Applied Physics Laboratory to gain perspectives on challenges and progress made in modernizing the NC3 system. DOD provided technical comments on the contents of the classified briefing.


GAO is not making any recommendations at this time.

Full Report

GAO Contacts

Office of Public Affairs


Classified defense informationCommand control communications systemsContinuity of governmentDecision makingMilitary communicationMilitary forcesNational defense operationsNuclear weaponsCommunicationsSocial media