Progress Hard to Gauge on Homeland Antimissile Program: Auditors

Then-Missile Defense Agency Director Lt. Gen. Patrick O'Reilly examines a missile-interceptor deployed at Fort Greely, Alaska, in 2010. A new congressional audit finds that the Pentagon is not providing sufficient information to allow a proper progress assessment of a key homeland antimissile system.
National Journal
Rachel Oswald
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Rachel Oswald
July 22, 2014, 10:18 a.m.

Con­gres­sion­al aud­it­ors are com­plain­ing that a dearth of data is mak­ing it dif­fi­cult to judge pro­gress in im­prov­ing a key home­land an­ti­mis­sile sys­tem.

The Pentagon was ordered un­der a 2013 law to re­port to Con­gress on spe­cif­ic ef­forts it was tak­ing to im­prove the per­form­ance of the Ground-Based Mid­course De­fense sys­tem — the coun­try’s prin­cip­al shield against a lim­ited in­ter­con­tin­ent­al bal­list­ic mis­sile strike. Pentagon of­fi­cials even­tu­ally de­livered the as­sess­ment in Feb­ru­ary, sev­en months late.

But while the doc­u­ment lists past and planned ac­tions aimed at tech­no­lo­gic­al en­hance­ments in the pro­gram, it fails to ad­equately ex­plain how those steps would work in bring­ing about im­prove­ments to the sys­tem’s per­form­ance, the Gov­ern­ment Ac­count­ab­il­ity Of­fice said in an as­sess­ment re­leased last week.

This lack of im­port­ant con­tex­tu­al in­form­a­tion, aud­it­ors said, is prob­lem­at­ic for con­gres­sion­al de­fense pan­els’ abil­ity to per­form over­sight of the GMD pro­gram, which fi­nally scored a crit­ic­al in­ter­cept win in a June test after years of fail­ures.

“Without an un­der­stand­ing of the ef­fect­ive­ness of these ac­tions and plans, Con­gress may not have the in­form­a­tion it needs when mak­ing dif­fi­cult choices on where to spend lim­ited funds,” the GAO re­port con­cludes.

For ex­ample, the Mis­sile De­fense Agency in­formed Con­gress that it had up­graded the soft­ware of all first- and second-gen­er­a­tion kin­et­ic kill vehicles de­ployed on in­ter­cept­ors un­der the GMD sys­tem. However, the agency “did not de­scribe the ef­fect­ive­ness of these im­prove­ments or wheth­er these im­prove­ments have been con­firmed to work as in­ten­ded in flight tests,” reads the re­port.

Ad­di­tion­ally, while the Mis­sile De­fense Agency dis­cussed its plans to cre­ate a bet­ter sys­tem for es­tim­at­ing in­ter­cept­ors’ re­li­ab­il­ity, the agency failed to dis­close how the new meth­od­o­logy would ac­tu­ally be put in place, ac­cord­ing to aud­it­ors.

Oth­er gaps in in­form­a­tion in­clude the con­tin­ued lack of a timeline for fi­nal­iz­ing a new Ground Based In­ter­cept­or ac­quis­i­tion strategy. This comes in spite of the fact that the Pentagon would need such a strategy be­fore it be­gins the pro­cess of pur­chas­ing 14 more in­ter­cept­ors for de­ploy­ment in Alaska in fisc­al 2018, the GAO re­port says.

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