Pentagon Offers Insufficient Data On Antimissile Test Options: Auditors

Technicians prepare a Ground Based Interceptor for emplacement into Missile Field 2 at Fort Greely, Alaska, in February 2012. A new audit criticizes the Pentagon for not providing sufficient information about its testing plan for the Ground-Based Midcourse Defense system.
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Rachel Oswald
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Rachel Oswald
May 1, 2014, 10:53 a.m.

Con­gres­sion­al aud­it­ors say the Pentagon is not giv­ing Con­gress ad­equate in­form­a­tion about its plan for test­ing a troubled stra­tegic mis­sile de­fense sys­tem.

In­form­a­tion provided by the De­fense De­part­ment on op­tions for con­duct­ing ad­di­tion­al tests of the Ground-Based Mid­course De­fense sys­tem is not nearly com­pre­hens­ive enough to give law­makers a sol­id un­der­stand­ing of the be­ne­fits and risks of pur­su­ing dif­fer­ent de­vel­op­ment and test­ing strategies, the Gov­ern­ment Ac­count­ab­il­ity Of­fice said in a Wed­nes­day re­port.

The Ground-Based Mid­course De­fense sys­tem con­sists of 30 Ground Based In­ter­cept­ors de­ployed at two states — Cali­for­nia and Alaska — and a sup­port­ing net­work of sensors that sup­ply in­form­a­tion about po­ten­tial bal­list­ic mis­sile threats. It is the coun­try’s prin­cip­al de­fense against a lim­ited long-range mis­sile at­tack. In re­sponse to the evolving stra­tegic mis­sile threat posed by North Korea, the Pentagon in­tends to field an ad­di­tion­al 14 in­ter­cept­ors in Alaska by the end of fisc­al 2017.

However, the GMD sys­tem has not had a suc­cess­ful in­ter­cept test since 2008. The most re­cent at­temp­ted in­ter­cept in sum­mer 2013 was aimed at prov­ing that fixes to the in­ter­cept­or’s front-end Exoat­mo­spher­ic Kill Vehicle were work­ing. It ended up re­veal­ing ad­di­tion­al prob­lems, though, with the mis­sile’s rock­et boost­er tech­no­logy.

The Pentagon’s Mis­sile De­fense Agency was ordered by Con­gress in the fisc­al 2013 De­fense Au­thor­iz­a­tion Act to provide law­makers with a re­port on the test­ing plan for the stra­tegic an­ti­mis­sile sys­tem. The as­sess­ment was to high­light the “feas­ib­il­ity, ad­vis­ab­il­ity, and cost ef­fect­ive­ness of ac­cel­er­at­ing GMD’s test­ing pace,” the re­port states.

Con­gress’ in­tern­al watch­dog found that the re­port provided by the Pentagon looked at just one test­ing op­tion — re­design­ing and test­ing the di­vert thrusters of the kill vehicle, which help to steer the com­pon­ent while in flight. But even in as­sess­ing that com­pon­ent, the De­fense De­part­ment’s re­port in­cluded sparse in­form­a­tion about op­tions re­lated to cost and sched­ule.

The GAO aud­it­ors also found that due to the Ju­ly 2013 in­ter­cept fail­ure, which in­volved an earli­er ver­sion of the kill vehicle, it would be “pre­ma­ture” for the Mis­sile De­fense Agency to make de­cisions about the sched­ule and nature of fur­ther test­ing of the EKV com­pon­ent un­til an on­go­ing re­view of the failed test is fin­ished.

The re­port con­cluded that the Pentagon was un­likely to be able to suc­cess­fully speed up the pace of test­ing the Ground-Based Mid­course De­fense sys­tem, due to its pre­vi­ous test­ing his­tory and the in­creas­ing com­plex­ity of the next planned tri­als.

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