Magazine article Arms Control Today

GAO Calls for Review of Missile Defense Satellite Program

Magazine article Arms Control Today

GAO Calls for Review of Missile Defense Satellite Program

Article excerpt

THE GENERAL ACCOUNTING Office (GAO) recently recommended that the Pentagon review a missile defense satellite system because of lingering problems that could result in major program cost and schedule overruns. The Air Force just restructured the program last year following a critical review of the system.

Initiated in 1996, the Space-Based Infrared System (SBIRS)-high program has been "burdened by immature technologies, unclear requirements, unstable funding, underestimated software complexity, and other problems," GAO stated in an Oct. 31 report on the program.

SBIRS-high is intended to replace the Pentagon's current constellation of Defense Support Program (DSP) satellites. The DSP satellites have been operating for more than 30 years and provide information on worldwide missile launches, among other tasks. The new system is also intended to gather intelligence and provide timely battlefield information to U.S. troops.

Yet, SBIRS-high is far from proving it can handle these missions. GAO noted that testing earlier this year revealed that the first infrared sensor to be deployed as part of the system demonstrated "several deficiencies" in the sensor's ability to "maintain earth coverage" and to track missiles.

As such problems have emerged, the SBIRS-high price tag has more than doubled. Originally projected to cost $1.8 billion to research and develop, the system is currently budgeted at $4.4 billion.

The system's development troubles have led to significant delays. …

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