GAO: "DOD Is At A Crossroads for Space"

GAO: "DOD Is At A Crossroads for Space"

The Government Accountability Office (GAO) said yesterday that “DOD is at a crossroads for space” and faces several major challenges as it tries to change its approach to space acquisitions.

In a statement for the record associated with a closed hearing held by the Strategic Forces Subcommittee of the Senate Armed Services Committee, GAO’s Cristina Chaplain enumerated significant cost increases and schedule delays in several DOD space programs.  The list includes:

  • Advanced EHF Communications satellite system (cost growth, 116 percent; first launch more than 3.5 years late)
  • Space Based Infrared System High (SBIRS) missile warning system (cost growth,almost 300 percent; first launch delayed 9 years); and
  • Global Positioning System ground system (cost growth, more than double; 6-year delay – “some DOD officials say even that is an optimistic timeline”).

More broadly, however, Chaplain reported that “Right now, DOD is at a crossroads for space.  Fiscal constraints and increasing threats — both environmental and adversarial — to space systems have led DOD to consider alternatives for acquiring and launching space-based capabilities.”  Those alternatives include disaggregation, hosted payloads, and procuring some capabilities, such as bandwidth and ground control, as services instead of developing and deploying them as government-owned systems, she said.

GAO did not make any recommendations, but highlighted three broad challenges the department faces in acquiring space systems:

  • Although DOD is conducting analyses of alternatives to support decisions about the future of space programs, there are gaps in cost and other data needed to weigh the pros and cons of changes to space systems;
  • Most changes being considered will impact ground systems and user equipment, but these systems continue to be troubled by management and development issues; and
  • Leadership for space acquisitions is still fragmented, which will likely hamper the implementation of new acquisition approaches.

Chaplain gave DOD credit for improvements in cost estimating practices, development testing, and oversight and leadership (such as the addition of the Defense Space Council), but considering all the ongoing problems, particularly with the GPS program, “it is clear that more needs to be done to improve the management of space acquisitions.”   She noted that DOD recently designated the Secretary of the Air Force to serve as the Principal DOD Space Advisor, but said it is too early to tell how effective that position will be in meeting the challenges.

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