Long-Term Planning and Adoption of Commercial Practices Could Improve DOD's Operations

April 18, 2013

What GAO Found

The Department of Defense (DOD) satellite control networks are fragmented and potentially duplicative. Over the past decade, DOD has increasingly deployed standalone satellite control operations networks, which are designed to operate a single satellite system, as opposed to shared systems that can operate multiple kinds of satellites. Dedicated networks can offer many benefits to programs, including possible lower risks and customization for a particular program's needs. However, they can also be more costly and have led to a fragmented, and potentially duplicative, approach which requires more infrastructure and personnel than shared operations. For example, one Air Force base has 10 satellite programs operated by 8 separate control centers. According to Air Force officials, DOD continues to acquire standalone networks and has not worked to move its current standalone operations towards a shared satellite control network, which could better leverage DOD investments.

The Air Force Satellite Control Network (AFSCN), DOD's primary shared satellite control network, is undergoing modernization efforts, but these will not increase the network's capabilities. The Air Force budgeted about $400 million over the next 5 years for these efforts. However, these efforts primarily focus on sustaining the network at its current level of capability and do not apply a decade of research recommending more significant improvements to the AFSCN that would increase its capabilities.

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