According to the Government Accountability Office, an investigative arm of Congress, in fiscal year 2011, the Missile Defense Agency, a research, development and acquisition agency within the Department of Defense, experienced mixed results in executing its development goals and Ballistic Missile Defense System tests.
The GAO did the study because the MDA has spent more than $80 billion since its initiation in 2002 and plans to spend $44 billion more by 2016 to develop, produce, and field a complex integrated system of land-, sea- and space-based sensors, interceptors, and battle management, known as the BMDS.
The MDA’s BMDS is being designed to counter ballistic missiles of all ranges-short, medium, intermediate, and intercontinental. Since ballistic missiles have different ranges, speeds, sizes, and performance characteristics, the MDA is developing multiple systems that when integrated provide multiple opportunities to destroy ballistic missiles before they can reach their targets. The BMDS architecture includes space-based and airborne sensors as well as ground- and sea-based radars; ground- and sea-based interceptor missiles; and a command and control, battle management, and communications system to provide the warfighter with the necessary communication links to the sensors and interceptor missiles.
“Since 2002, National Defense Authorization Acts have mandated that we prepare annual assessments of the MDA’s ongoing cost, schedule, testing, and performance progress,” said Christina Chaplain, GAO firector of Acquisition and Sourcing Management.
To do this, the GAO examined the accomplishments of the BMDS elements and supporting efforts and reviewed individual element responses to GAO data collection instruments.
The GAO also reviewed pertinent DOD policies and reports, and interviewed a wide range of DOD, MDA, and BMDS officials.
“For the first time in 5 years, the GAO found that all of the targets used in this year’s tests were delivered and performed as expected. In addition, the Aegis Ballistic Missile Defense program’s Standard Missile-3 (SM-3) Block IA missile was able to intercept an intermediate-range target for the first time. Also, the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense program successfully conducted its first operational flight test in October 2011,” Chaplain continued, “However, none of the programs we assessed were able to fully accomplish their asset delivery and capability goals for the year.”
According to the GAO, flight test failures, anomalies, and delays disrupted the development of several components and models. In addition, simulation challenges remain.
Flight test failures forced the MDA to suspend or slow production of three out of four interceptors currently being manufactured, while failure review boards investigate their test problems.
“Three of the programs experienced anomalies,” Chaplain said, ” The SM-3 Block 1A, the SM-3 Block 1B had a failure to intercept the target, while the GMD is recovering from an anomaly it experienced last year.”
As for the concurrency issues, Chaplain said, in testimony before the Subcommittee on Strategic Forces, Committee on Armed Service and the U.S. Senate, “In 2002, the MDA was charged with developing and fielding the Ballistic Missile Defense System, expected to be capable of defending the United States, deployed troops, friends, and allies against ballistic missiles of all ranges in all phases of flight. To enable the MDA to field and enhance a missile defense system quickly, the Secretary of Defense in 2002 delayed entry of the BMDS program into DOD’s traditional acquisition process until a mature capability was ready to be handed over to a military service for production and operation. To meet a presidential directive to deliver an initial capability by 2004 and to meet a presidential announcement in 2009 to deploy missile defenses to Europe, the program concurrently developed and fielded assets and continues to utilize this approach.”
Concurrency is broadly defined as the overlap between technology development and product development or between product development and production.
While some concurrency is understandable, the MDA has undertaken and continues to undertake highly concurrent acquisitions. This approach enabled the MDA to rapidly deploy an initial capability in 2005 by concurrently developing, manufacturing, and fielding BMDS assets, but it also led to the initiation of large-scale acquisition efforts before critical technologies were fully understood and allowed programs to move forward into production without having tests completed to verify performance. After delivering its initial capability in 2005, the MDA continued these high-risk practices that have resulted in problems requiring extensive retrofits, redesigns, delays, and cost increases. While the MDA has incorporated some acquisition best practices in its newer programs, its acquisition strategies still include high or elevated levels of concurrency that result in increased acquisition risk-including performance shortfalls, cost growth, and schedule delays-for these newer programs.
Chaplain said, “High levels of concurrency were present in the MDA’s initial efforts and are present in current efforts, though the agency has begun emphasizing the need to follow knowledge-based development practices.”
During 2011, the GMD, the Aegis SM-3 Block IB, and the THAAD experienced significant ill effects from concurrency.
“For example, the MDA’s discovery of a design problem in a new variant of the GMD program’s interceptors while production was underway, increased costs, may require retrofit of fielded equipment, and delayed delivery,” said Chaplain in her report, “Flight test cost to confirm its capability has increased from $236 million to about $1 billion.”
The GAO concluded that because the MDA continues to employ concurrent strategies, it is likely that it will continue to experience these kinds of acquisition problems.
In the GAO’s June 2011 report on parts quality issues affecting space and missile defense systems, they highlighted a number of causal factors behind the parts quality problems being experienced at the MDA and space agencies.
The GAO made seven recommendations to the Secretary of Defense to reduce concurrency and strengthen the MDA’s near- and long-term acquisition prospects.
The DOD concurred with six recommendations and partially concurred with one related to reporting on the cause of the Aegis BMD SM-3 Block IB test failure before committing to additional purchases.
The DOD did not agree to tie additional purchases to reporting the cause of the Aegis BMD SM-3 Block IB test failure.
The DOD’s stated actions were generally responsive to problems already at hand, but did not consistently address implications for concurrency in the future.
The MDA traces its roots back to the origins of the Strategic Defense Initiative program. President Ronald Reagan launched this initiative in 1983 to develop non-nuclear missile defenses.
The SDI consolidated missile defense programs that were scattered among several government offices and molded them into a coherent program under the management of the Strategic Defense Initiative Organization.
As the technologies developed under the original initiative evolved, so did the organization responsible for their management.
In 1994, the SDIO was officially renamed the Ballistic Missile Defense Organization.
The National Missile Defense Act of 1999 defined the mission for the BMDO, while the U.S. withdrawal from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty in 2002 lessened the restrictions to develop and test these technologies.
In 2002, the BMDO was renamed the MDA, which continues to research and develop hit-to-kill technologies, and, in time, began to test and field elements of the BDMS.