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Missile Defense Programs Little Mentioned As Critics Assail Pentagon Procurement Programs

By | May 5, 2008

      Missile and missile defense programs were little mentioned during a lengthy congressional hearing where some major defense procurement programs were flailed for being over budget, under performance goals and behind schedule.

      Because missile defense programs generally have been within recent cost and schedule guidelines, they were little criticized in the overruns hearing.

      However, a unit of the same House subcommittee at a later hearing last week lacerated missile defense programs for being expensive, and some witnesses questioned whether missile defense will work. (Please see separate story in this issue.)

      In the first hearing last week before the House subcommittee, blistering criticisms were leveled at some weapons acquisition programs, and their Pentagon managers and defense contractors, but the Missile Defense Agency (MDA), missile defense programs, and missile programs in general, escaped the flamethrower castigation directed at some programs.

      In two different presentations, the Marine Corps Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle (EFV), an amphibious tank made by General Dynamics Corp. [GD] was roasted for being above cost estimates and below requirements, so that the platform will have to be redeveloped.

      During that hearing of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee national security and foreign affairs subcommittee, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) reported a worsening over many years in scores of Pentagon procurement programs suffering overruns, poor performance and delays:

      • Comparing the fiscal year ending Sept. 30, 2000, with fiscal 2007, the latest full budget year, cost overruns on those major weapons procurement programs have gone from an average 6 percent above estimates to 26 percent, a four-fold-plus increase.
      • The inflation-adjusted dollar amount of overruns has jumped from $42 billion to $295 billion, a six-fold explosion, though the number of programs analyzed was greater in fiscal 2007.
      • Acquisition programs where unit costs have jumped 25 percent or more — the Nunn-McCurdy standard where a program must be re-justified to continue — increased from 37 percent of programs reviewed to 44 percent.
      • And the average delay in delivering initial capabilities jumped from 16 months to 21 months, a 31.3 percent rise.

      But the Missile Defense Agency was little mentioned during the hearing where Michael J. Sullivan, GAO director for acquisition and sourcing management, focused on his report during the hearing.

      Later, Space & Missile Defense Report asked him about missile defense programs, and whether they are given special budget flexibility because Congress is far more interested in getting a workable shield defending American cities from nuclear holocaust, than it is about budget proprieties.

      Sullivan replied that if there are any instances where missile defense programs are not precisely meeting every budget or capability guideline, that may be understandable, considering that missile defense technologies have had to be invented from scratch.

      "They are dealing with the laws of physics and a lot of technologies that, as we all know, take a lot of invention and trial and error, and it’s a very tough job, what they’re trying to do," Sullivan said.

      "And given that, I think it is fair to say that they [Congress] set it up in a way that gives them a lot of leeway. Failure isn’t always failure [because there is] discovery involved," Sullivan said.

      It’s really like a technology" invention effort, and thus "a different environment than, say, the F-22" Raptor supersonic, super-stealth strike fighter for the Air Force, he said.

      Actually, however, MDA has had programs meeting cost and schedule criteria, with Lt. Gen. Henry A. "Trey" Obering III, the MDA director, telling Congress that in recent trials, missile defense systems have scored 10 hits out of 10 tests. He has drawn high praise from lawmakers for progress in missile defense programs.

      To be sure, in his report, Sullivan did touch on a couple of space and missile programs.

      For example, he said that "the Wideband Global SATCOM program encountered cost and schedule delays because contractor personnel installed fasteners incorrectly." That snafu cost the program more than a year of lost time. "Discovery of the problem resulted in extensive inspection and rework to correct the deficiencies, contributing to a 15-month schedule delay," he reported.

      On another program, "despite being more than [five] years past the production decision, the Air Force’s Joint Air-to-Surface Standoff Missile experienced four failures during four flight tests in 2007, resulting in an overall missile reliability rate of less than 60 percent," according to GAO findings. "The failures halted procurement of new missiles by the Air Force until the problems could be resolved."

      Sullivan sees the JASSM program as afflicted by poor systems engineering practices.

      To view Sullivan’s testimony and annual report titled "Defense Acquisitions: Results of Annual Assessment of DOD Weapon Programs" in full, please go to on the Web and click on the report, GAO-08-674T.

      His criticisms of the EFV were amplified in a report by the committee majority staff titled "The Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle: Over Budget, Behind Schedule and Unreliable."

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