GAO: EELV Program To Cost $70 Billion Through 2030

GAO: EELV Program To Cost $70 Billion Through 2030

The Government Accountability Office (GAO) released its annual assessment of DOD’s acquisition of selected weapon programs today.   The Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle (EELV) was one of several DOD space programs reviewed and GAO reports that the program’s cost will be $70 billion through 2030, $35.7 billion more than the previous estimate from 2012.

Each year GAO assesses a selected set of DOD’s major acquisition programs.   Currently, DOD has 80 such programs and GAO reviewed 38 of them for the report released today.  The space programs included in the report are:

  • Enhanced Polar System (Air Force communications satellites, adjuncts to the Advanced Extremely High Frequency — AEHF — system)
  • EELV
  • Global Positioning System III
  • Mobile User Objective System (Navy communications satellites)
  • Next Generation Operational Control System (GPS OCX, new ground control system for GPS)
  • Space Fence
  • Space Based Infrared Satellite System (SBIRS High)

The Air Force EELV program office procures launches for national security and other satellites from the United Launch Alliance using the Delta IV and Atlas V rockets.   GAO said that after the program exceeded a congressionally-mandated threshold for cost growth (a “Nunn-McCurdy breach”) in 2012, DOD restructured the program as required and established a new baseline in 2013.   The new program cost estimate grew to $70 billion through 2030, an increase of $35.7 billion, which program officials attributed to “extension of the program life-cycle from 2020 to 2030, procurement of 60 additional launch vehicles, the inherently unstable nature of the demand for launch services, and industrial base instability.” 

Often described as the congressional watchdog agency, GAO also noted that there are nine variants of the Atlas V and five variants of the Delta IV — a total of 14 EELV variants.  While there have been 66 successful EELV launches, and each of the 14 variants has flown at least once, only three have demonstrated technology, design and production maturity by meeting Aerospace Corporation’s “3/7 reliability rule.” 

Under that rule, GAO explains, a launch vehicle is considered to have design maturity after three successful launches and production maturity after seven successful launches.   By GAO’s reckoning, all 14 variants have demonstrated technology maturity, 10 have demonstrated design maturity (with three successful flights), and only three have demonstrated production maturity with seven successful flights.  Those three are the Atlas V 401, the Delta IV Medium and the Delta IV Heavy. 

GAO’s point is that until design and production maturity have been demonstrated “problems with fleetwide designs or production processes may go undiscovered, which could cause significant cost and schedule risk.”

The Air Force is still investigating the root cause of a Delta IV upper stage anomaly in October 2012, GAO continues.  “While the engine performed normally on launches in May and August 2013, the Air Force delayed a third launch of the Delta IV scheduled for October 2013, due to new conclusions from the investigation and to fully understand the anomaly and reduce any potential risks.”

The delayed launch in October 2013 was of the GPS IIF-5 satellite.   The Air Force successfully launched that satellite on a Delta IV Medium on February 21, 2014.

User Comments has the right (but not the obligation) to monitor the comments and to remove any materials it deems inappropriate.  We do not post comments that include links to other websites since we have no control over that content nor can we verify the security of such links.