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Nuclear Command, Control, and Communications: Update on DOD's Modernization

GAO-15-584R Published: Jun 15, 2015. Publicly Released: Jun 15, 2015.
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What GAO Found

GAO provided an in-depth classified briefing in April 2015 to congressional defense committee staff on the results of its review of several on-going nuclear command, control, and communications (NC3) modernization programs or efforts within the Department of Defense (DOD). NC3 is a large and complex system comprised of numerous land-, air-, and space-based components used to assure connectivity between the President and nuclear forces. The current NC3 architecture consists of components that support day-to-day nuclear and conventional operations prior to a nuclear event as well as those that provide survivable, secure, and enduring communications through all threat environments. DOD is executing several acquisition efforts intended to modernize elements of NC3. For seven of those efforts, GAO provided information on (1) the acquisition strategy for developing and fielding and how it is expected to address known capability gaps or deficiencies; (2) progress and challenges meeting cost, schedule, and performance goals; and (3) risks, if any, in meeting goals and the actions planned or being taken to mitigate those risks.

Specifically, GAO reviewed the

  • Mission Planning and Analysis System;
  • Family of Advanced Beyond Line-of-Sight Terminals;
  • Presidential and National Voice Conferencing;
  • Phoenix Air-to-Ground Communications Network;
  • Common Very Low Frequency Receiver;
  • Global Aircrew Strategic Network Terminal; and
  • the Minuteman Minimum Essential Emergency Communications Network Program Upgrade.

GAO found that while the programs and efforts have made progress toward developing and fielding systems as well as meeting cost, schedule, or performance goals, known capability gaps or deficiencies remain. For example, development of key satellite communication terminals for strategic bomber aircraft has been deferred by several years. Other programs GAO reviewed have planned follow-on increments intended to address known capability gaps or deficiencies; however, these increments are not yet funded. Further details remain classified.

Why GAO Did This Study

GAO conducted this study in response to the Senate Armed Services Committee report accompanying a bill for the Carl Levin National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2015, which included provisions for GAO to (1) update recent prior assessments of NC3 acquisition programs and (2) review the U.S. Strategic Command’s ongoing effort to update the Mission Planning and Analysis System with briefings to the congressional defense committees.

To address these objectives, GAO focused its review on seven NC3 programs or efforts that support the full range of NC3 functions that pertain to planning, decision making, situation monitoring, force management, and force direction. Given the large number and wide range of programs that either directly or indirectly support NC3-related missions, GAO chose to focus on these key NC3 programs or efforts that are among the largest efforts in terms of estimated cost and/or that enable senior leader communications or other critical capabilities.

GAO collected and reviewed DOD and other assessments of NC3. GAO also conducted interviews with program officials, as well as cognizant officials from the Air Force Strategic Deterrence and Nuclear Integration Office; Office of the Undersecretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology, and Logistics; U.S. Strategic Command; DOD Office of the Chief Information Officer; Office of the Director, Operational Test & Evaluation; DOD Cost Assessment and Program Evaluation, Defense Information Systems Agency, Air Force Global Strike Command; and Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory.


GAO is not making any recommendations at this time. GAO provided a draft of this report to DOD for comment. The departmentresponded that it had no formal comments.

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