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GAO Says Airborne Laser, Kinetic Interceptor, Costs Not Fully Tallied

By | April 23, 2007

      Costs were not fully estimated for the two ballistic missile defense (BMD) programs designed to destroy enemy missiles early in their ballistic flights, according to a Government Accountability Office (GAO) report.

      The GAO report, provided to congressional committees, said a Missile Defense Agency (MDA) document sent to Congress last year contained useful information on the Airborne Laser (ABL) and Kinetic Energy Interceptor (KEI) programs.

      MDA at some point will choose just one of those programs for the task of killing enemy missiles shortly after they rise from launch pads or silos, before the enemy weapons have a chance to spew out multiple warheads or confusing chaff. A test in 2009 will show whether the ABL laser system can kill an enemy missile in flight, and a similar test will come for KEI. Other tests of the systems will be executed in the next two years.

      In its report, GAO found that MDA correctly included assessments of many of the costs in the rival ABL and KEI programs. GAO estimates the Department of Defense (DOD) has spent $107 billion on all forms of ballistic missile defense systems since the so-called Star Wars years of the mid-1980s, a total sum including many other BMD programs aside from ABL and KEI.

      However, the GAO complained that MDA didn’t include in ABL and KEI cost estimates the outlays that would arise after the anti-missile systems are developed, such as basing expenses.

      That MDA document “did not address the challenges in establishing bases at the locations cited or provide information on the quantity of each element required for various deployment periods,” the GAO stated.

      Further, the MDA document “did not involve key DOD stakeholders such as the [armed] services and combatant commands in preparing the report and did not clearly explain modeling assumptions and their effects on results as required by relevant research standards,” the watchdog agency asserted.

      As well, the MDA document “did not explain how each element’s performance may change if developing technologies do not perform as expected,” according to the GAO report.

      However, the GAO notes that MDA was hampered in providing some information because some events in the ABL and KEI development programs haven’t yet occurred.

      That MDA document notes that “some data is limited, and operational concepts that discuss operations from forward locations have not been fully vetted with the services and combatant commands,” the GAO noted.

      “GAO found that MDA’s estimates did not include all cost categories, including costs to establish and sustain operations at U.S. bases and at forward overseas operating locations,” the GAO report observed.

      “Also, MDA’s estimates did not calculate costs based on realistic quantities of each element the combatant commanders or services would need to conduct the mission. “Finally, MDA did not conduct a sensitivity analysis to assess the effect of key cost drivers on total costs.”

      The missile defense organization agreed that further analysis would “help to better inform DOD and congressional decision makers in making investment decisions following key tests in 2008 and 2009.” So the GAO recommended that “DOD should include key stakeholders in assessing operational issues, report on technical progress, and update and verify life-cycle cost estimates in accordance with key principles for developing life-cycle costs.”

      Earlier, DOD agreed to include stakeholders and assess technical progress but did not agree to prepare or report life-cycle costs in accordance with key principles, according to the GAO.

      The report entitled Missile Defense: Actions Needed to Improve Information for Supporting Future Key Decisions for Boost and Ascent Phase Elements can be viewed in entirety at on the Web.

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