DOD Is Overcoming Long-Standing Problems, but Faces Challenges to Ensuring Its Investments Are Optimized

April 24, 2013

What GAO Found

Most of the Department of Defense's (DOD) major satellite programs are in mature phases of development, that is, the initial satellites have been designed, fabricated, and launched into orbit while additional satellites of the same design are being produced. For the portfolio of major satellite programs, new cost and schedule growth is not as widespread as it was in prior years, but DOD is still experiencing problems. For example, total program costs have increased approximately $180 million from a baseline of $4.1 billion for one of two satellite programs that are in the earlier phases of acquisition. Though satellite programs are not experiencing problems as widespread as in years past, ground control systems and user terminals in most of DOD's major space system acquisitions are not optimally aligned, leading to underutilized satellites and limited capability provided to the warfighter. For example, the development and fielding of user terminals for a Navy communications satellite program lag behind the launch of new satellites by more than a year. Additionally, the development of ground software needed to extract capabilities of new missile warning satellites is not expected to be complete until at least 2018, even though satellites are being launched. Another acquisition challenge facing DOD is the cost of launching satellites into space, which range from around $100 million to over $200 million per launch.

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