Opportunities Exist to Strengthen Acquisitions by Reducing Concurrency and Improving Parts Quality

April 25, 2012

In fiscal year 2011, the Missile Defense Agency (MDA) experienced mixed results in executing its fiscal year 2011 development goals and tests. For the first time in 5 years, GAO was able to report that the agency delivered all of the targets used in fiscal year 2011 test events with the targets performing as expected. In addition, the Aegis Ballistic Missile Defense program's Standard Missile-3 Block IA missile was able to intercept an intermediate-range target for the first time and the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense program successfully conducted its first operational flight test. However, none of the programs GAO assessed were able to fully accomplish their asset delivery and capability goals for the year. Flight test failures, a test anomaly, and delays disrupted MDA's flight test plan and the acquisition strategies of several components. Flight test failures forced MDA to suspend or slow production of three out of four interceptors currently being manufactured. Some of the difficulties in MDA's testing and production of assets can be attributed to its highly concurrent acquisition approach.

Concurrency is broadly defined as the overlap between technology development and product development or between product development and production. High levels of concurrency were present in MDA's initial efforts and are present in current efforts. For example, MDA's flight test failures of a new variant of the Ground-based Midcourse Defense program's interceptors while production was underway delayed delivery to the warfighter, increased costs, and will require retrofit of fielded equipment. Flight test costs to confirm its capability has increased from $236 million to about $1 billion. MDA has taken positive steps to incorporate some acquisition best practices, such as increasing competition and partnering with laboratories to build prototypes. For example, MDA took actions in fiscal year 2011 to reduce acquisition risks and prevent future cost growth in its Aegis SM-3 Block IIA program. Nevertheless, as long as newer programs adopt acquisition approaches with elevated levels of concurrency, there is still considerable risk of future performance shortfalls that will require retrofits, cost overruns, and schedule delays. 

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