In 1995, the Department of Defense (DOD) made plans for the space and missile tracking system—the low satellite component of the Space-Based Infrared System (SBIRS)—to be deployed in fiscal year 2006. In February 1996, the Congress directed the Secretary of Defense to restructure the SBIRS program and deploy the first space and missile tracking system (hereafter referred to as SBIRS-low) satellite in fiscal year 2002.< 1 > The Congress also appropriated $264 million above DOD’s fiscal year 1996 and 1997 budget requests to support this deployment acceleration. The purpose was to ensure that the space and missile tracking system provided support to national and theater ballistic missile defenses sooner, rather than later.
DOD has not implemented this congressional directive to accelerate SBIRS-low deployment to fiscal year 2002. It stated that such acceleration was not possible because technical, funding, and management problems had delayed the scheduled launch of two demonstration satellites, the results of which were necessary before deciding to initiate the fabrication of operational SBIRS-low satellites. However, DOD is planning on accelerating deployment to fiscal year 2004 and has directed the Air Force to prepare cost estimates and program plans to support such deployment.
DOD originally estimated SBIRS-low life-cycle costs at $9.3 billion, which was part of a total estimated life-cycle cost of $22.6 billion for the SBIRS program during fiscal years 1995 through 2020. In October 1996, however, the Air Force revised SBIRS program costs and informed us that these estimates had decreased to $7.8 billion and $17.5 billion for fiscal years 1997 through 2020, respectively. Of the approximate $5-billion total decrease, the Air Force attributed (1) $2.5 billion to using a lower inflation index and to excluding fiscal year 1995 and 1996 program costs and (2) $2.5 billion to plans for using fewer SBIRS-low satellites and different launch vehicles and to acquisition reform and commercial practices. In commenting on our draft report, DOD stated that as of December 1996, SBIRS-low program costs had decreased an additional $800 million, from $7.8 billion to $7 billion for fiscal years 1997 through 2020. However, DOD did not provide a reason for this reduction.
We reviewed the SBIRS-low program to determine the effects of changing the deployment date from fiscal year 2006 (the original schedule) to fiscal year 2002, 2003, 2004, or 2005. To do this, we relied on available Air Force data—some of which was in draft form and none of which, according to DOD, was verified by the Office of the Secretary of Defense. We performed this review under our basic legislative responsibilities and are addressing this report to you because the matters discussed fall within your Committees’ jurisdiction.
Our assessment of four deployment options—fiscal years 2002, 2003, 2004, and 2005—that would accelerate the SBIRS-low program from DOD’s originally planned fiscal year 2006 schedule shows some potential differences in risk and variations in funding requirements (see table 1). Our assessment was based on data prepared by the Air Force at various times between June 1995 and November 1996 using various assumptions.
The fiscal year 2002 and 2003 options would result in higher program risk because of the high degree of concurrent activities between the planned first year of the flight demonstration and the development and fabrication of SBIRS-low satellites. In addition, although program officials stated that total life-cycle costs would not be affected, a substantial amount of additional funding would be required during fiscal years 1997 through 2002 because of compressing the SBIRS-low development, fabrication, and deployment schedule. In commenting on our draft report, DOD stated that the higher costs of the fiscal year 2003 option was due to differences in technical configuration. DOD has not included these additional fundingneeds in its future years defense program; thus, the source of such funds would need to be identified. < 2 >
If SBIRS-low deployment were scheduled for fiscal year 2004, the first year of the flight demonstration and SBIRS-low engineering and manufacturing development would be sequential, rather than concurrent, allowing time to assess the demonstration results before making a milestone decision on satellite development and fabrication. This schedule would make program risk similar to the fiscal year 2006 schedule, which DOD considers to be low. However, considerable additional funds during fiscal years 1998 through 2003 would be required because of program schedule compression. Upon completing our field work, these additional funding needs had not been included in DOD’s future years defense program. However, in commenting on our draft report, DOD stated that recent budgetary actions in December 1996 had identified and programmed the additional funding in the fiscal year 1998 future years defense program.
Under the fiscal year 2005 option, flight demonstration and SBIRS-low development and fabrication would also be sequential, rather than concurrent. This schedule would also make program risk similar to the fiscal year 2006 schedule. Funding requirements during fiscal years 1998 through 2003, however, would be less than those for DOD’s original schedule for a fiscal year 2006 deployment. DOD and Air Force representatives initially informed us that fewer funds would be required because of planning for a more efficient production schedule. In commenting on our draft report, however, DOD stated that fewer funds were required because of a different satellite configuration and a lower inflation rate.
The widely divergent results associated with these four deployment options are directly linked to how soon SBIRS-low can and should be scheduled to support national and theater ballistic missile defenses. Although DOD is currently planning on a fiscal year 2004 SBIRS-low deployment, the Congress has not rescinded the requirement in the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 1996 to accelerate deployment to fiscal year 2002. How the Congress and DOD resolve these differing views on deployment dates will determine how much program risk may be taken and what the funding requirements would be.
We have reported on numerous occasions about the risks associated with program concurrency and of initiating production without adequate testing. The SBIRS-low fiscal year 2002 and 2003 options are analogous situations whereby a planned decision to fabricate satellites would be made before the results of a critical flight demonstration are available.
At this point in time, however, the Congress does not have complete and consistent information on the program risks and the need for additional funding associated with the various options to accelerate SBIRS-low deployment. The Air Force’s data on these options were prepared at different times using different assumptions, and the Air Force recently established a new SBIRS program baseline using revised life-cycle costs.
Appendix I contains the details of our assessment.
In commenting on a draft of this report, DOD stated that the report describes many of the issues and problems that have affected the program in the past year and that as recently as December 1996, the Air Force and DOD made some key decisions to focus development and stabilize funding.
DOD indicated that, to provide budgetary and technical discipline, the program has been upgraded to a major defense acquisition program and a Defense Acquisition Board review has been scheduled for the spring of 1997. DOD also noted that it had added funding to enhance the program definition/risk reduction phase of the program and had established a fiscal year 2004 deployment date to best balance technical risk and available funding.
According to DOD, the Congress has accepted these actions as being in conformance with its objectives and will be provided additional information following the Defense Acquisition Board review. Given these developments, DOD believes that the dialogue on various deployment options has been successfully concluded and disagrees with our recommendation that it provide additional information on the fiscal year 2002, 2003, 2004, and 2005 deployment options.
Despite DOD’s apparent plans to deploy SBIRS-low in fiscal year 2004, the Congress has not changed the requirement in the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 1996 for deployment in fiscal year 2002. In addition, DOD officials could not provide documentation supporting their claim of “broad congressional support” for the fiscal year 2004 deployment. DOD stated that (1) it had struggled with identifyingdeployment costs and technical risk for a variety of different satellite options and deployment dates, (2) the different technical assumptions and costing methodologies used for the various deployment options had caused confusion and uncertainty in the Congress, and (3) our report accurately identified these problems. Also, DOD representatives have informed us that the current SBIRS-low cost estimate, a portion of which is included in the fiscal year 1998 future years defense program, could change pending the results of an independent cost analysis.
In view of these facts, we reaffirm our recommendation that DOD fully inform the Congress about the feasibility and effects of accelerating SBIRS-low deployment for the fiscal year 2002, 2003, 2004, and 2005 deployment options.
DOD’s comments also provided suggestions to improve the technical accuracy and clarity of the report and we have incorporated them in the text where appropriate. DOD’s comments are reprinted in their entirety in appendix II.
To fully inform the Congress about the feasibility and effects of accelerating SBIRS-low, we recommend that the Secretary of Defense provide the congressional defense committees with complete, consistent, and current information that discusses program risk, revised program costs, and any additional funding needs and sources for the fiscal year 2002, 2003, 2004, and 2005 deployment options.
The Congress may wish to consider the costs and risks of DOD’s plans to deploy the first SBIRS-low satellite in fiscal year 2004, relative to the statutory requirement in the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 1996 to deploy the first satellite in fiscal year 2002 and revise the requirement as necessary.
If DOD does not provide the Congress with complete, consistent, and current information on program risks, revised program costs, and any additional funding needs and sources for the fiscal year 2002, 2003, 2004, and 2005 deployment options for use in making its decision, the Congress may wish to require that DOD provide it.
The scope of our review involved the SBIRS-low component of the SBIRS program and included an examination of program risks and changes in funding requirements for various SBIRS-low deployment options. The information for the options was developed by the Air Force at different times between June 1995 and October 1996 for different purposes to assess the feasibility of deploying SBIRS-low in fiscal years 2002, 2003, 2004, and 2005. Because the Air Force did not use the same assumptions to assess these options, a consistent comparison of changes in funding requirements was not possible. For example, the options included different satellite configurations and launch vehicles. According to DOD, these different assessments led to disparities in cost and technical estimates. Although we requested estimated funding requirements for each option year that used the same assumptions, the SBIRS program director stated that such a comparison was no longer meaningful because the Air Force was preparing for a fiscal year 2004 deployment option decision. Despite this lack of consistency, we believe that comparing this information with the fiscal year 2006 deployment schedule provides some indication of the funding and program risk differences.
We performed our work primarily at the Air Force Space and Missile Systems Center and Aerospace Corporation in Los Angeles, California, and the U.S. and Air Force Space Commands in Colorado Springs, Colorado. We reviewed program requirements and briefings, acquisition and test plans, budgetary information, management reports, and internal memoranda.
In addition, we held discussions with representatives and obtained documentation from the Office of the Deputy Under Secretary of Defense for Space, the Air Force’s Office of the Assistant Secretary for Acquisition, and the Ballistic Missile Defense Organization in Washington, D.C., and the Air Force’s Phillips Laboratory in Albuquerque, New Mexico. We also held discussions with and obtained documents from representatives of the TRW Space and Electronics Group and Hughes Aircraft Company, which is the contracting team that is developing and fabricating two flight demonstration satellites.
We performed our work from October 1995 through September 1996 in accordance with generally accepted government auditing standards.
We are sending copies of this report to the Secretaries of Defense, the Air Force, the Army, and the Navy; the Director of the Ballistic Missile Defense Organization; and the Director of the Office of Management and Budget. We will make copies available to others upon request.
This report was prepared under the direction of Thomas J. Brew, Associate Director, Defense Acquisitions Issues, who may be reached on (202) 512-4841 if you or your staff have any questions concerning information in this report. Major contributors to this report are listed in appendix III.
Louis J. Rodrigues Director,
Defense Acquisitions Issues
The Honorable Strom Thurmond Chairman
The Honorable Carl Levin Ranking Minority Member
Committee on Armed Services
United States Senate
The Honorable Ted Stevens Chairman
The Honorable Daniel Inouye Ranking Minority Member
Subcommittee on Defense
Committee on Appropriations
United States Senate
The Honorable Floyd D. Spence Chairman
The Honorable Ronald V. Dellums Ranking Minority Member
Committee on National Security
House of Representatives
The Honorable C.W. Bill Young Chairman
The Honorable John P. Murtha Ranking Minority Member
Subcommittee on National Security
Committee on Appropriations
House of Representatives
The Department of Defense’s (DOD) Defense Support Program (DSP)—a strategic surveillance and early warning satellite system with an infrared capability to detect long-range ballistic missile launches—has been operational for about 25 years. Since the early 1980s, DOD’s efforts to replace DSP with more modern capability have been unsuccessful because of immature technology, high cost, and affordability issues. These aborted efforts have included the Advanced Warning System; the Boost Surveillance and Tracking System; the Follow-on Early Warning System; and the Alert, Locate, and Report Missiles system.
DSP’s capabilities in theater situations became increasingly important during the 1991 Persian Gulf War with the launching of SCUD missiles by Iraq. However, more timely and accurate information was needed on these short-range ballistic missile launches. The Air Force subsequently made changes in DSP data processing to achieve an enhanced capability—a system known as Attack and Launch Early Reporting to Theater—without modifying the DSP satellite sensors. However, DOD concluded that expanding theater warning requirements necessitated new sensor technology, and it began planning for an improved infrared satellite sensor capability that would support both strategic and theater operations.
In 1994, DOD initiated a study < 1 > to consolidate various infrared space requirements. Based on the study results, it selected the Space-Based Infrared System (SBIRS) to replace DSP. SBIRS is expected to use more sophisticated infrared technologies, which are intended to enhance the detection and tracking of strategic and theater ballistic missile launches and provide critical data for national and theater missile defense systems, than DSP.
The SBIRS architecture consists of space and ground processing segments. The space segment contains both high and low orbit components. The high component is to consist of four satellites operating in geosynchronous earth orbit and sensors on two host satellites operating in a highly elliptical orbit.< 2 > In commenting on our draft report, DOD officials stated that for planning purposes the SBIRS-low component consists of 24 operational satellites in low earth orbit. However, the SBIRS-low
1 Referred to as the Office of the Secretary of Defense Space-Based Warning Summer Study.
2 A satellite in a geosynchronous orbit has a circular period of revolution that is equal to the period of the earth’s rotation about its axis, or 24 hours. A satellite in a highly elliptical orbit spends most of its time over a designated area of the earth, known as apogee dwell.
constellation could consist of more or less satellites depending on the results of contractor cost and performance studies. The ground processing segment is to consist of a mission control station in the United States, a communication system, and two overseas ground stations. The Air Force plans to develop the ground segment in three increments. Increment I is to consolidate the existing DSP ground processing operations. During increment II, the Air Force plans to integrate the high component satellites’ data processing with the consolidated DSP operations. Increment III is to incorporate the functions and equipment necessary to support SBIRS-low when it is deployed.
DOD decided to deploy the high orbit component beginning in fiscal year 2002 because of (1) an urgent need to replace DSP, primarily for theater missile defense purposes; (2) the low program risk associated with technology, infrastructure, and schedule; and (3) the system’s ability to meet key performance parameters. DOD determined that SBIRS-low could be deployed in fiscal year 2006 and planned to make a deployment decision in fiscal year 2000 after key technologies and operating concepts were validated on two demonstration satellites scheduled for launch in fiscal year 1999. DOD’s rationale for deploying SBIRS-low at a later date was because (1) the national missile defense mission for SBIRS, which only this component could satisfy, was not a key requirement and (2) the risk associated with antiballistic missile treaty issues, technology, cost, schedule, and operational complexity was high.
The National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 1996 required the Secretary of Defense to accelerate the space and missile tacking system (now called SBIRS-low) deployment of the first satellite to fiscal year 2002. The purpose was to ensure that SBIRS-low provided support to national and theater ballistic missile defenses sooner, rather than later. To help achieve this objective, the Congress appropriated an additional $135 million above DOD’s fiscal year 1996 budget request.
During deliberations on DOD’s fiscal year 1997 budget request, the Congress reiterated its desire that SBIRS-low deployment be accelerated, and it appropriated $129 million above DOD’s budget request to do so. The Congress also expressed disappointment with DOD for not (1) responding in a timely manner to the fiscal year 1996 statutory requirement and (2) obligating all of the fiscal year 1996 SBIRS-low funds as directed. < 3 >
In responding to the congressional direction, the Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition and Technology wrote, in a July 24, 1996, letter to congressional committees, that accelerated deployment of SBIRS-low beginning in fiscal year 2002 was not possible because technical, funding, and management problems had delayed the scheduled launch of the two demonstration satellites from the first quarter to the third quarter of fiscal year 1999. According to Air Force officials, this delay prevented basing a milestone decision to enter the engineering and manufacturing development (EMD) phase of the SBIRS-low acquisition process, scheduled for the first quarter of fiscal year 2000, on the results of the planned flight demonstration.
Earlier, in a July 10, 1996, letter, the Under Secretary requested that the Defense Science Board assess the viability of accelerating SBIRS-low deployment. In September 1996, based on the Board’s findings and recommendations, the Under Secretary directed the Air Force to (1) prepare for a SBIRS-low deployment decision no later than April 15, 1997, and (2) develop an acquisition strategy, an acquisition program baseline, an independent cost assessment, and a preliminary test plan that would support SBIRS-low deployment in fiscal year 2004. The purpose of the planned April decision was to choose between the fiscal year 2004 option and the fiscal year 2006 original schedule. Also, in September 1996, the Under Secretary appeared before a congressional panel, testifying on ballistic missile defense, and stated that DOD was considering the affordability of accelerating SBIRS-low deployment to fiscal year 2004. < 4 > In commenting on our draft report, DOD stated that a fiscal year 2004 deployment decision was made in December 1996. However, the Acquisition Decision Memorandum documenting this decision will not be finalized until the spring of 1997.
The flight demonstration program includes three satellites—one low altitude demonstration system satellite for competitive development purposes and two satellites for flight demonstration purposes. The low altitude demonstration system satellite is to (1) provide an alternative to
< 3 > DOD subsequently released all of these funds to the Air Force, which has until September 30, 1997, to obligate them.
< 4 > Testimony before a joint session of the Subcommittee on Military Research and Development and the Subcommittee on Military Procurement of the House Committee on National Security, Sept. 27, 1996.
the contractor team that is now fabricating the two flight demonstration satellites and (2) reduce program and technical risks. The two flight demonstration satellites are to validate the integration of key technologies and operational concepts that are critical to national missile defense and other SBIRS missions. The Air Force draft test plan calls for launching a single ballistic missile target to demonstrate the ability of these satellites to perform this national missile defense function. Also, the Air Force intends to participate in Ballistic Missile Defense Organization tests designed to further demonstrate the ability of the two satellites to detect and track ballistic missiles. It plans to use the results of the demonstration and tests to model and simulate the full performance capability of a constellation of operational SBIRS-low satellites.
In commenting on our draft report, DOD stated that it has approved additional theater and national missile defense targets for the flight demonstration program. In doing so, it programmed $149 million for one theater and one national missile defense target for the low altitude demonstration system and one theater missile defense target for the flight demonstration satellites. According to DOD officials, these additional missile tests were added to give needed statistical validity to the test results.
The results of the planned flight demonstration, prior to the Board’s recommendations, were intended to form the basis for decision-making regarding SBIRS-low development, fabrication, and deployment—that is entry into the EMD phase of the acquisition process. The primary emphasis is on the ability to detect and track ballistic missiles and their warheads throughout flight and distinguish between missile warheads and decoys. According to program officials, performing this function autonomously while in orbit is one of the most complex and technologically challenging operational concepts ever attempted. They believe that a national missile defense system with space-based sensors depends on a successful flight demonstration program. They stated that proceeding into the EMD phase prior to demonstrating this capability would not provide an opportunity to assess lessons learned, thus introducing unacceptable risk into the program.
In commenting on our draft report, DOD emphasized that the flight demonstration program was extended from 1 year to 2 years. It stated that the extension was needed to participate in scheduled Ballistic Missile Defense Organization tests, as well as to fully use the satellites during their 2- to 3-year life expectancy. However, DOD officials stated that information collected during the first year of the test program is the most critical for making a decision of whether to enter EMD.
We have reported on numerous occasions about the risks associated with program concurrency and of initiating production without adequate testing. SBIRS-low could be an analogous situation. For example, in 1990, we concluded that although concurrency can be used to expedite the development and production of weapon systems, rushing into production (in this case, satellite fabrication) before critical tests (in this case, flight demonstration) are successfully completed has resulted in the purchases of systems that do not perform as intended. And, in 1994, we reported that programs are often permitted to begin production with little or no scrutiny, and the consequences have included procurement of substantial inventories of unsatisfactory weapons requiring costly modifications to achieve satisfactory performance, and in some cases, deployment of substandard systems to combat forces. < 5 >
If SBIRS-low deployment were accelerated from the originally planned date of fiscal year 2006 to fiscal year 2002 or 2003, DOD would face higher program risks and substantial additional funding requirements in its future years defense program. Both of these deployment options are similar because the increased risk would result primarily from the scheduled concurrent activities between the first year of the flight demonstration program and the EMD phase. Based on the currently planned launch of the two demonstration satellites in the third quarter of fiscal year 1999, from 4 to 8 months of the scheduled
Some program risk could also be expected because the pre-EMD phase would start from 9 to 12 months prior to launch of the flight demonstration satellites. During the pre-EMD phase, SBIRS-low users, operators, testers, and competing contractors are to refine and document system requirements, functions, and design concepts. The contractors are to also conduct cost and performance trade-offs between system requirements. Under this schedule, it would not be possible for requirements development and system design to be based on the results of the flight demonstration. In addition, SBIRS program officials stated that such concurrent scheduling would likely create difficulty in processing and assimilating the large amounts of data that would be expected from the flight demonstration and pre-EMD acquisition phases. Because of this highly concurrent schedule, the Defense Science Board questioned the value of the flight demonstration effort if the fiscal year 2002 deployment option were chosen. < 6 > It stated that under the fiscal year 2002 option the effort should be terminated, ground testing should be employed instead, and the SBIRS-low program should be restructured to proceed directly into pre-EMD in fiscal year 1997.
Figure I.1 shows the planned acquisition schedules for the flight demonstration and the pre-EMD and EMD phases for the fiscal year 2002 and 2003 options, as compared to the fiscal year 2006 original schedule.
The fiscal year 2002 and 2003 deployment options contain substantial increased funding requirements relative to the fiscal year 2006 original schedule. The Air Force estimated that during fiscal years 1997 through 2002, these two options would require an additional $2.1 billion and $2.6 billion, respectively. These estimates were prepared in April 1996 and June 1995, respectively. The additional funding (1) would result from compressing the schedule for developing and fabricating SBIRS-low and incurring associated costs sooner than originally planned and (2) would be separate from any increased costs that could occur from the scheduled concurrence, such as flight demonstration results forcing system design changes or premature acquisition of long lead parts. In commenting on our draft report, DOD stated that (1) the higher cost of the fiscal year 2003 option was due to differences in technical configuration and (2) both funding estimates were probably low, considering the level of development and production concurrency.
According to DOD officials, such funding has not been included in the future years defense program and would therefore require increased appropriations from the Congress or a reduction of funding for other DOD or Air Force programs. The importance of sufficient resources in DOD’s future years defense program is to ensure program stability. In fact, DOD regulations require that no acquisition program be approved to proceed beyond program initiation unless sufficient resources, including manpower, are programmed in the most recently approved future years defense program or will be programmed in the next program objective memorandum, budget estimate submission, or President’s budget.
If SBIRS-low deployment were accelerated from the originally planned date of fiscal year 2006 to fiscal year 2004, the risk of entering EMD would be similar. However, DOD would need considerable additional funding in its future years defense program.
Figure I.2 shows that under this option the first year of the flight demonstration would be completed about 4 months before the start of EMD. Thus, DOD would have information on the demonstration satellites’ performance to consider in deciding whether the system should enter the EMD phase. However, the flight demonstration and pre-EMD phase would run concurrently, not allowing demonstration results to influence requirements development and system design.
In considering this option, the Board concluded that the flight experiments (demonstration) could proceed in parallel with pre-EMD. However, the Board did not provide a reason for this conclusion. It stated that although the experiments were extremely beneficial, the associated on-orbit test plans were inadequate to fully exploit the demonstration and additional dedicated targets and test time should be added.
Similar to the fiscal year 2002 and 2003 options, the fiscal year 2004 option would require additional funding because program activities would be compressed. Air Force representatives estimated in October 1996 that an additional $900 million would be required during fiscal years 1998 through 2003 for this option. However, in commenting on our draft report, DOD stated that a more current budget estimate revised the additional funding downward to $509 million. The reasons given were (1) using a different launch vehicle, (2) using different inflation assumptions, (3) savings from the SBIRS-high program, and (4) better cost estimating fidelity. It also stated that the funding is included in the fiscal year 1998 future years defense program.
If SBIRS-low deployment were accelerated from the originally planned date of fiscal year 2006 to fiscal year 2005, program risk would be similar. However, the funding requirements would be less.
Figure I.3 shows that under this option the first year of the flight demonstration would be completed about 4 months prior to the start of EMD. Thus, DOD would have information on the demonstration satellites’ performance to consider in deciding whether the system should enter the EMD phase. Although there is some concurrency between pre-EMD and flight demonstration under this option, such concurrency is also present in the fiscal year 2006 original schedule.
Air Force officials stated that although there are no technical constraints precluding a fiscal year 2005 deployment, they initially preferred the fiscal year 2006 deployment schedule because it allowed for a slower buildup of funding requirements. Budget estimates, which were prepared in May 1996, supporting the fiscal year 2005 deployment option showed that up to $500-million less would be required for fiscal years 1998 through 2003 than for the original fiscal year 2006 schedule. In commenting on our draft report, DOD officials stated that the reason for the $500-million reduction, even though it represents acceleration from the fiscal year 2006 schedule, was due to a different satellite configuration and a lower inflation rate. Thus, they stated that it was not an adequate comparison with the fiscal year 2006 configuration.