MDA Cuts Likely; Hints of Change
Two of America’s most powerful defense politicians made clear today that they expect the Missile Defense Agency to change how it has done business.
The two politicians are Sen. Carl Levin, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, and Rep. Ellen Tauscher, chairman of the House Armed Services strategic forces subcommittee. They told roughly 1,000 missile defense advocates in separate speeches that more and better testing must be done and hard choices are coming that will probably mean substantial cuts to the MDA budget. But there were also distinct signs of a hopeful nature, from the new head of MDA, Army Lt. Gen. Patrick O’Reilly, and from one of its most persistent and respected critics, Philip Coyle, former head of Operational Test and Evaluation.
Tauscher’s line was simpler and less compromising than Levin’s. “We need to make some tough defense budget decisions,” she said, pointing to the Airborne Laser program, which is four years behind schedule and billions of dollars over budget. “Let me be clear. Those days are over.”
Missile defense, she said, “cannot be like some second marriages, the triumph of hope over experience.” Let it be noted that this drew considerable laughter since Tauscher had just told the audience a few minutes before that she was getting married for a second time in June to a former Marine.
Coyle lambasted the missile defense crowd for consistently avoiding tough and operational tests. He noted that North Korea may launch a missile soon. What, he said, would missile defense advocates do “if North Korea launched at night or in bad weather” and the US tried to shoot the missile down and missed because the system has not been tested in those conditions. “The MDA test program has fallen far behind in testing for such eventualities,” he said, adding that MDA was supposed to do its first night time test on Dec. 11, 2002 and still has not performed one.
He said MDA must take four steps to ensure its systems are operationally suitable.
* Test to establish operational criteria;
* Test to demonstrate whether it can handle multiple incoming missiles, “not just two or three;”
* Test to ensure it can overcome both countermeasures and decoys;
* Test to ensure the systems can function “in less than ideal conditions” such as dark and in bad weather.
He also urged MDA to stop punishing companies whose products fail tests. Currently MDA withholds award fees in the event of test failures. this, Coyle said, “encourages companies to carefully script tests.”
At the top of the article I mentioned that there were several causes for optimism at today’s conference. One of them was the simple fact the Coyle was asked to speak at the conference, which is hosted in part by MDA. The other was that Gen. O’Reilly stood up after Coyle’s speech and made this point to the audience: “There is great value in listening to criticisms as we have done today. Now it’s up to us to think about it and respond accordingly.”
Following are Sen. Levin’s remarks, as prepared for delivery:
Thank you General O’Reilly, and thank you to the MDA and to everyone at AIAA who has worked so hard to put this conference together. It is a pleasure to be here today to discuss several missile defense issues. It is surely timely to be having this discussion. Missile defense is very much in the news these days.
U.S.-Russian Cooperation on Missile Defense
For instance, consideration of missile defense is going to be at the center of the new strategic discussion between the United States and Russia. As our nation presses what Vice President Biden called the “re-set button” in our relations with Russia, it appears that the door to cooperation between the United States and Russia is gradually opening, and missile defense could become a tool for positive change, rather than an impediment to better relations.
We have many common security interests with Russia, and our mutual security will be best served if we cooperate to address our common security challenges. Indeed, for some international security challenges, like proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, we need Russia’s cooperation; we can’t do the job adequately without Russia.
With the start of the new administration, we have an opportunity to explore the possibility of cooperating with Russia on missile defense capabilities to provide protection against Iran’s ballistic missile systems. A nuclear-armed Iran with ballistic missiles would be a threat to which Russia cannot be, and I believe is not, indifferent. Just last week, Mikhail Gorbachev – the former Soviet leader – told a number of us Senators that a nuclear-armed Iran would be even more of a threat to Russia than to the United States.
U.S.-Russian cooperation on missile defense against Iranian missiles – even if we were simply to begin serious discussions on the subject – would send a powerful signal to Iran. Iran would face in a dramatic way a growing unity against her pursuit of dangerous nuclear technology. U.S.-Russian cooperation on missile defense, in other words, could change the geopolitical dynamic in the region and reduce the emerging strength of Iran – which is a State supporter of terrorism and a threat to much of the Middle East, including the Arab world.
Given the disagreement between the United States and Russia over the proposed deployment of U.S. missile defenses in Poland and the Czech Republic, it might seem that there is no realistic chance for missile defense cooperation. However, this is a case where the security of each nation would be enhanced if we could find a cooperative path to address Iran’s missile capabilities. Since we have a mutual security interest in addressing a shared security challenge, surely it is worth the effort to try. Secretary Gates has told the Armed Services Committee that NATO would welcome that effort.
In previous bilateral discussions, the Russians offered to share early warning data from the Gabala radar in Azerbaijan. That radar information would be useful to the United States, as a supplement to our existing radar capabilities for all ranges of missile defense. Also, the United States and Russia previously agreed on a Joint Data Exchange Center in Moscow, but the effort to establish such a center got bogged down in differences over tax and liability issues. We should resume serious talks to resolve these differences.
Leaders in both the U.S. and Russia have recently expressed interest in exploring missile defense cooperation. Did you ever believe that some of our missile defense engineers and experts might be working together with their Russian counterparts? It could happen and if it does, it could help address a major threat. The bottom line is simple: We have a new opportunity to seek a cooperative approach with Russia on missile defense, and we should seize it. The upside potential of such an effort is huge – a geopolitical game changer. The downside is minimal.
Missile defense is also very much in the news as part of the debate over acquisition reform.
There appears to be a growing consensus that serious steps are needed to fix the system the Defense Department uses to acquire major weapon systems. Earlier this month, the President told the press that “It’s time to end the extra costs and long delays that are all too common in our defense contracting.” And in January, Secretary Gates told our Committee that we must work together to address the “repeated – and unacceptable – problems with requirements, schedule, cost, and performance” from which too many of our defense acquisition programs suffer. I believe that we can take advantage of this emerging consensus by enacting common-sense reforms that will make our acquisition process faster, smarter, and less expensive, including for missile defense systems.
According to recent estimates, DOD’s 95 major defense acquisition programs have exceeded their research and development budgets by an average of 40 percent, seen their acquisition costs grow by an average of over 25 percent, and experienced an average schedule delay of almost two years. Last summer, the GAO reported that cost overruns on these major acquisition programs now total $295 billion over the original estimates, even though we have cut unit quantities and reduced performance expectations on many programs in an effort to hold costs down.
As a general rule, when DOD acquisition programs fail, it is because the Department continues to rely on unreasonable cost and schedule estimates, establish unrealistic performance expectations, insist on the use of immature technologies, and adopt costly changes to program requirements, production quantities and funding levels in the middle of ongoing programs.
Some missile defense programs have suffered from these problems. For example:
With regard to the GMD System, the GAO reports that MDA acquired interceptors before the critical technologies had been demonstrated in a realistic environment. We had to start refurbishing these missiles almost as soon as they were deployed, and GAO now reports that this process has uncovered unexpected issues, leading to a requirement for what the program calls “extensive refurbishment,” with some of the missiles unavailable for use and the impact on cost and schedule yet to be determined.
With regard to the Multiple Kill Vehicle, the GAO reports that none of the 16 critical technologies in the program are mature, and system development began in 2006 without even setting top-level requirements for the payload. Until those final requirements are approved and critical technologies have been demonstrated in the correct form, fit, and function for the payload, it is uncertain whether the technologies will meet program requirements.
With regard to flexible targets for the GMD program, the GAO reports that MDA has given up on all variants except one. And for that target, none of the six critical technologies are mature, even though the missile is currently in production. As a risk mitigation step, the program office is developing a back-up technology, but it is even more immature and the program would need substantial additional funding if it hopes to complete the development effort.
With regard to the Airborne Laser (ABL), GAO could not assess the ABL’s design stability. The GAO reports that none of the seven critical technologies are fully mature after more than a decade of development. As a result, the estimated cost to complete the ABL technology development program has increased by roughly 500 percent over the last decade, from $724 million in 1997 to $3.6 billion today.
This is the high price that we have paid for our failure to impose needed discipline on our overall acquisition system, and for our failure to complete needed system engineering tasks, perform appropriate developmental testing, and build and fully test prototypes.
That is why I have introduced with Senator McCain S. 454, the Weapon Systems Acquisition Reform Act of 2009. Our bill is designed to help put major defense acquisition programs on a sound footing from the outset by addressing program shortcomings in the early phases of the acquisition process. Some of the key provisions of the bill would require DOD to rebuild its systems engineering capabilities, reestablish the position of Director of Developmental Testing, and establish an independent cost estimating office headed by a Senate-confirmed director who reports directly to the Secretary – just like the Director of Operational Test and Evaluation – in an effort to ensure that the budget assumptions underlying acquisition programs are sound. We would also require the increased use of competitive prototyping, and put teeth into the Nunn-McCurdy statute by establishing the presumption that any program that exceeds its original baseline by more than 50 percent will be terminated unless it can be justified from the ground up.
I am pleased that MDA, under General O’Reilly’s leadership, is already implementing some of the same reforms that Senator McCain and I are proposing to implement throughout the Department of Defense. To give just a few examples:
Section 101 of our bill would require the Department of Defense to rebuild its systems engineering capabilities. MDA has started to work in this direction by expanding an MDA systems engineering internship program from 9 students a year to 200 students a year, and developing a strong mentoring program and career path for systems engineers in the agency.
Section 203 of the bill would require the Department of Defense to maximize competition throughout the life of acquisition programs to create an ongoing incentive for contractor performance. MDA is moving in this direction by opening exclusive partnering arrangements to competition and by notifying industry of its intent to require competition for follow-ons to a series of major contracts that had previously been awarded by MDA on a sole-source basis.
Section 205 of our bill would address organizational conflicts of interest by prohibiting contractors who are hired to provide the government independent systems engineering advice from building the systems on which they are advising us. MDA is moving in this direction by notifying its industrial partners that they cannot be both prime developers and support contractors on the same programs.
The changes that MDA is making, like the changes that would be required by our bill, are not painless. They will require a change in culture and approach not only by the Department of Defense, but also by its contractors. At a time when the federal budget is under immense strain as a result of a growing economic crisis, however, these are changes that we cannot afford not to make.
Missile Defense and the Acquisition System
Specific additional changes are needed to put our missile defense programs on the right track.
New leadership in the White House and the Missile Defense Agency provide a critical opportunity to restore acquisition discipline to MDA programs by bringing them into compliance with generally-applicable acquisition statutes and regulations. For the last eight years, these programs have been exempted from normal acquisition requirements and processes, and the results have not been favorable.
Missile defense is an important element of our nation’s defense. For example, it is a high priority to field effective defenses for our forward-deployed forces against the many hundreds of existing short– and medium-range missiles. Patriot and the Aegis BMD system are already providing such protection, and THAAD is expected to begin fielding soon. We will need more of these capabilities.
But that doesn’t mean that we should acquire systems that haven’t been adequately tested and demonstrated. We need to bring MDA programs into compliance with acquisition measures that are designed to protect the taxpayers and ensure that the systems we field are fully tested and will actually work as intended.
For the last eight years, MDA programs have been exempt from many of the most basic requirements of the DOD acquisition system. For example, because MDA programs were not considered by the Bush Administration to be acquisition programs, they are not required to have requirements validated by the Joint Requirements Oversight Council (JROC); not required to undergo analyses of alternatives and business case analyses; not required to obtain independent certification of technological maturity; not required to receive milestone approval from the Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology, and Logistics; and not required to develop comprehensive test plans leading up to Operational Test and Evaluation.
MDA programs have suffered from extensive schedule delays, and from billions of dollars of added costs. Unfortunately, we have not been in a position to say how bad these problems are, because unlike other acquisition programs, MDA programs are not required to establish firm baselines for cost and schedule, not required to measure their performance against those baselines, and not subject to Nunn-McCurdy requirements to identify and address troubled programs. As the GAO recently explained:
“MDA has not yet established baselines for total costs or unit costs, both fundamental markers most programs use to measure progress. Consequently, for the sixth year, GAO has not been able to assess MDA’s actual costs against a baseline of either total costs or unit costs.”
GAO concluded, “the lack of total cost baselines precludes analysis of total cost progress.”
This is going to have to change, and I believe that it will change under General O’Reilly’s leadership.
Finally, testing and evaluation must be restored to the central place in MDA programs that it occupies with other major weapon systems. While we have experienced recent success in testing for some missile defense programs, like Aegis and THAAD, we must ensure that we test all missile defense systems in a realistic manner. It is just not good enough to argue that opponents will have to assume that it is going to work, and that is almost as good as the real thing.
Not a single intercept flight test was conducted during fiscal year 2008 on the largest and most expensive of the MDA programs, the Ground-based Midcourse Defense – or GMD – system. And, although Congress has routinely approved funding for two flight tests per year, MDA has been averaging less than one flight test per year for the last five years.
The Director of Operational Test and Evaluation concluded just two months ago that the testing of the GMD system has not been sufficient for us to know if this system will work as intended. The Director’s annual report in December 2008 said that, “GMD flight testing to date will not support a high degree of confidence in its limited capabilities.” That is a troubling evaluation of a system that has been deployed for more than four years.
As the theme of this conference suggests, adequate testing is needed to demonstrate whether a system is operationally effective, suitable, and survivable, and thus to provide confidence in the capabilities of the system. At a minimum, I believe we need to demonstrate with flight tests a number of functions of the GMD system that are fundamental to its ability to work as intended. These include: salvo testing with multiple interceptors against a single target; multiple simultaneous engagements using multiple interceptors against multiple targets; and at least one intercept test using the Cobra Dane radar as the battle management sensor.
It is good to see that General O’Reilly has made missile defense testing a high priority, and that the MDA and the missile defense community are embracing that perspective. On several occasions Congress has approved additional funding for missile defense testing, above the budget request. I am hopeful that with MDA’s new focus on testing, this will no longer be necessary.
So, in summary, we meet at a moment of rare opportunity to use missile defense as a tool for positive change in our international relations, and to reform and improve the DOD acquisition process in general and for our missile defense systems in particular. Working together, Congress, DOD, and industry can make significant progress on these issues. I welcome your input as we work on the FY 2010 defense authorization bill and on acquisition reform, and as Congress provides oversight of missile defense programs. I thank you for the opportunity to be here this morning, and for your contribution to the security of our beloved nation.