Status Report

Missile Defense: Knowledge-Based Practices Are Being Adopted, but Risks Remain, GAO-03-441

By SpaceRef Editor
June 4, 2003
Filed under , ,

Full Report (PDF)

What GAO Found

Our work has shown that programs are most successful when they evolve
products over time rather than try to make big leaps in capability and when
the programs adopt knowledge-based acquisition processes. Similarly, MDA
is taking an evolutionary approach to developing the missile defense system
by developing capabilities in spirals or “blocks” rather than attempting to
deliver all desired capabilities at one time. The agency intends to facilitate
this approach by keeping requirements flexible before beginning activities to
integrate technologies into a planned block, following a knowledge-based
development plan, and demonstrating that technologies work as intended
before beginning system integration of a block. In addition, the agency is
seeking to involve stakeholders-such as the military services and
operational testers-early in the development effort.

However, MDA has not adopted some knowledge-based practices regarding
long-term investment decision making and, as a result, the missile defense
program’s success could be hampered. First, MDA is not making an early
determination of the full cost of a capability. Such an estimate would help
decision makers more effectively evaluate which technologies to include
because they offer the best capability for the funds invested. Second, DOD is
not allocating a “wedge” of funds in its Future Years Defense Plan for system
production and operations. Without this wedge, DOD may not have the funds
needed to procure and maintain the missile defense system.

In addition, the President’s directive to begin fielding a missile defense
capability by 2004 places MDA in danger of getting off track early and
impairing the effort over the long term. This danger is highlighted by MDA’s
decision to not follow some of its knowledge-based practices as it develops
the first block of the system. For example, MDA is beginning system
integration of its first block with immature technology and limited testing.
While doing so may help MDA meet the President’s deadline, it also
increases the potential that some elements may not work as intended.

Why GAO Did This Study

The Department of Defense (DOD)
would like to build a capable
missile defense system that paces
an ever-evolving threat. This is an
expensive and risky endeavor
because it requires a diverse set of
technologies to be quickly
developed, integrated, and
deployed across an array of
platforms. DOD estimates that it
will need $50 billion for missile
defense research and development
over the next 6 years and likely
additional funds in subsequent
years. GAO was asked to review
the Missile Defense Agency’s
(MDA) strategy for this investment
and determine what knowledgebased
practices characteristic of
successful programs are being
adopted by MDA; what significant
practices are not being adopted;
and whether MDA is following the
practices that it has adopted.

What GAO Recommends

GAO is recommending that DOD
prepare life cycle cost estimates for
missile defense elements before
beginning integration activities and
explore the option of setting aside
funds to produce and operate the
missile defense system over the
long term.

SpaceRef staff editor.