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SBIRS Cost Overruns Likely To Exceed $414 Million, And Delays To Exceed Estimates Of 15 Months

By | October 6, 2008

      Plans To Resolve Software Glitches Are Likely To Fall Short, Report States

      It likely will require more than an estimate $414 million in cost overruns and 15 months of delays to resolve software problems plaguing the next-generation Space

      Based Infrared System (SBIRS) that someday will detect enemy missile launches.

      That was the conclusion of a Government Accountability Office (GAO) report to congressional committees.

      SBIRS has been beset with problems for some time, and its goals have been reset in 2002, 2004 and 2005, after which its flight software flunked a test last year.

      While the Department of Defense (DOD) developed a plan to resolve the issues, estimating that the glitches could be resolved for $414 million in cost overruns and a 15-month delay in the SBIRS program, now that plan is drawing skepticism from the GAO.

      Supplier Northrop Grumman Corp. [NOC] last year delivered the first SBIRS geosynchronous orbit (GEO) payload to prime contractor Lockheed Martin Corp. [LMT] for integration into the spacecraft and final system-level testing.

      That included DOD assessing the problem and steps to resolve it, having review teams work with DOD and contractor personnel, developing new software, and performing tests.

      Better management processes also were put in place.

      From all that, DOD estimated it would take $414 million and 15 months of delays to resolve the problems.

      But GAO countered that "these estimates appear optimistic. For example, confidence levels — based on the program’s ability to develop, integrate, and test software in time to meet the schedule goal — have been assessed as low."

      Confidence that the contractor and some subcontractors will meet goals set in the plan are rated at 5 percent up to 50 percent, the report noted.

      Another problem is that the resolution plan sets goals that may be overly optimistic, the GAO continued.

      "Review teams who approved the designs to start coding software report that the program’s aggressive schedule is a major challenge because it allows ‘little margin for error,’" the government watchdog agency noted.

      And it gets worse.

      "DOD has also introduced risk by granting waivers to streamline the software development processes to meet the aggressive schedule. These allow the program to deviate from disciplined processes in order to compress the schedule and meet the goal. "In addition, some software elements are behind schedule, and thousands of software activities and deliverables remain to be integrated. Delay by these other programs could create unintended consequences for the SBIRS launch goal. If DOD should need additional time or encounter problems beyond what was planned for, more funds will be needed and launch of the first satellite in December 2009 could be jeopardized."

      GAO recommended revising cost and schedule goals in a more realistic, less-risk fashion with a greater confidence of success.

      GAO also called for requiring the contractor to adhere to disciplined software practices to reduce risk.

      According to the GAO, "DOD partially concurred with the first recommendation to revise the cost and schedule estimates, and concurred with the recommendation to prioritize adherence to software practices."

      The report titled "Space Acquisitions: DOD’s Goals for Resolving Space Based Infrared System Software Problems Are Ambitious" may be read in entirety by going to on the Web and going to report GAO-08-1073.

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