DOD Weapon Systems Acquisition - High Risk Issue
Congress and the Department of Defense (DOD) have long sought to improve how major defense weapon systems are acquired. Yet, many programs in DOD's over $1.6 trillion portfolio continue to fall short of cost, schedule, and performance expectations. As a result, DOD often pays more than anticipated, buys less than expected, and delivers less capability to the warfighter.
GAO's annual "DOD Quick Look" reports compare DOD’s progress on acquiring major defense weapon systems to best acquisition practices and chronicle the cost, schedule, and performance challenges of these systems, which currently include:
- The Ford Class Aircraft Carrier
- The Columbia Class Ballistic Missile Submarine
- The Next Generation Operational Control System
- The F-35 Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter (the most expensive and ambitious weapon acquisition program in U.S. military history)
Selected Major Defense Acquisition Programs
In addition, GAO has issued numerous reports on individual acquisition programs such as KC-46 Tanker Modernization, the Amphibious Combat Vehicle, the MQ-25 Unmanned Aircraft System, and the VH-92A Presidential Helicopter.
Key information needed
Since Congress passed the Weapon Systems Acquisition Reform Act of 2009, DOD has improved the way it acquires weapon systems. For example, defense weapon systems programs initiated since 2010 have done a better job of staying within budget estimates than their predecessors. However, we have observed that programs experience the majority of cost growth after entering production, and are proceeding or plan to proceed into development and production without the key knowledge essential to good acquisition outcomes.
GAO has identified three key points in the course of a weapon system acquisition where programs should demonstrate critical levels of knowledge before proceeding to the next phase. Otherwise, they are more likely to face undesirable cost, schedule, and performance outcomes.
Defense Acquisition Cycle and GAO-Identified Knowledge Points
DOD’s weapon systems are more software dependent and more networked than ever before—making them more vulnerable to cyberattacks. DOD’s networks can also be used to attack other information technology systems. Despite numerous warnings over the past few decades, DOD has only recently begun to prioritize cybersecurity in weapon systems acquisitions.
Embedded Software and Information Technology Systems in DOD Weapon Systems (Fictional Representation)
GAO-19-128: Published: Oct 9, 2018. Publicly Released: Oct 9, 2018.
In recent cybersecurity tests of major weapon systems DOD is developing, testers playing the role of adversary were able to take control of systems relatively easily and operate largely undetected. DOD's weapons are more computerized and networked than ever before, so it's no surprise that there are more opportunities for attacks. Yet until relatively recently, DOD did not make weapon cybersecuri...
GAO-18-238SP: Published: Jun 6, 2018. Publicly Released: Jun 6, 2018.
The Navy set a goal in 2007 for a fleet of 330 ships. Since then, the Navy has: fallen 50 ships short, gone $11 billion over budget, experienced many years of schedule delays, delivered ships with less capability and lower quality than expected. These poor outcomes persist because policy and processes enable the Navy to deviate from shipbuilding best practices. The Navy is planning its bigge...
GAO-18-321: Published: Jun 5, 2018. Publicly Released: Jun 5, 2018.
DOD is getting closer to completing the F-35 program, but DOD's plan to move into full-rate production without fixing key deficiencies brings into question the reliability and affordability of the aircraft. DOD has already requested $9.8 billion for 2019 and will ask for about $10.4 billion more per year over the next two decades. Congress should consider withholding funding from the next increm...
GAO-18-324: Published: May 30, 2018. Publicly Released: May 30, 2018.
The Missile Defense Agency is developing a system to track and destroy enemy missiles. In our annual review of this system, we found that, as in prior years, MDA has made progress developing, testing, and delivering some parts of this system but did not always complete its goals. For example, while MDA delivered some kinds of missiles to the military as planned, other missiles were delayed. We al...
GAO-18-360SP: Published: Apr 25, 2018. Publicly Released: Apr 25, 2018.
We report annually on the programs DOD uses to buy its 86 major weapon systems—which are worth $1.66 trillion. We looked at changes to DOD's weapon system portfolio since our 2017 report, including DOD's progress implementing purchasing reforms. This year, the outlook is mixed. While newer defense weapon systems have done a better job of staying within budget estimates, many are proceeding with...
GAO-18-158: Published: Dec 21, 2017. Publicly Released: Dec 21, 2017.
Getting the first Columbia class submarine out on patrol by 2031 is essential to maintain an important U.S. nuclear capability. But doing so will be challenging and expensive—over $267 billion to develop, buy and operate 12 submarines. We found that: Several technologies critical to Columbia class performance need more development and testing; and, Starting to design and build vessels before...