DOD IG: Lack of systems engineering imperils missile system

A lack of systems engineering plans could derail a $30 billion effort to field an integrated Ballistic Missile Defense System (BMDS), the Defense Department’s inspector general said in a report released earlier this month.

The Missile Defense Agency (MDA) has not completed a systems engineering plan or developed a sustainment plan for BMDS, jeopardizing the development of an integrated BMDS, the DOD IG said.

The report emphasizes that DOD must practice strong systems engineering to effectively sustain weapons systems. That begins with design and development.

After an audit, the IG concluded that MDA “had not completed a systems engineering plan or planned fully for system sustainment,” the report states. “Therefore, the [MDA] is at risk of not successfully developing an integrated ballistic missile defense system”

Victoria Samson, a research analyst at the Center for Defense Information, a watchdog group based in Washington, D.C., said she wonders if MDA has met its declared initial operational capability benchmarks “if it cannot even develop a systems engineering plan.”

Samson added that such plans are fundamental to the development of large-scale systems.

President Bush has strongly supported BMDS to counter missile attacks from other countries or terrorists. Missile programs have received $19.9 billion in funding in the past two years. Bush’s proposed fiscal 2007 budget includes another $11.1 billion.

Because of poor planning, MDA cannot assure the security of information systems used by the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) element and Aegis Ballistic Missile Defense element, according to the report.

The Navy began developing the ship-based Aegis system in 1996 to take out enemy missiles while they’re in the air. It intends to install the system on 18 ships.

THAAD, an Army project started in 1992, would likewise neutralize enemy missiles by destroying them while above the Earth’s atmosphere. It would also protect military forces, cities and critical infrastructure from short- and midrange ballistic missile attacks.

A lack of systems engineering discipline threatens the interoperability of THAAD, a conglomeration of radars, missile systems, launcher systems, and command and control/battle management and communications systems, the report states.

THAAD’s program manager has aggressively developed an information support plan two years ahead of the scheduled transition to the Army, according to the report.

The Airborne Laser (ABL) element, an Air Force project started in 1992, hinges on a high-powered laser carried on a modified Boeing 747. The project faces similar information security problems because the systems engineering plan is out of date and contactors have not complied with the software development plan, the report states.

Until the ABL element manager enforces the engineering plan, his “ability to oversee element development and system security will remain limited,” it states.

Those three systems and the Ground-based Midcourse Defense (GMD) system, which consists of missile sites and radars in Alaska and California, form BMDS’ core.

A DOD IG report released last month found flaws in the security technologies, policies and procedures needed to protect information on the GMD Communications Network. ran a Web story on the DOD IG report March 16, and the report was removed from the IG’s Web site this past weekend.

The DOD IG systems engineering report highlighted similar problems with MDA’s approach to information assurance and security as detailed in the now expunged report.

For example, the systems engineering report states that the Aegis element manager did not develop a security certification and accreditation process for information technology, the DOD IG said.

The manager did not include a plan to develop information assurance requirements in the software development plan because she thought the contract identified capability requirements, the IG said.

But, the IG said, Aegis specifications reference information assurance requirements, not methods for developing them.

Despite starting development in 1992, the IG report states, the THAAD program manager had produced only a draft System Security and Authorization Agreement (SSAA) by last year, and that draft was incomplete and uncertified by MDA or the deputy for security, intelligence and special programs.

The ABL element manager, the IG said, decided to apply system security requirements in the agreement for the National Industrial Security Program Operating Manual for contractor facilities rather than applying weapon systems security requirements.

The first ABL aircraft did not need to meet weapon systems security requirements because it was used only for development and testing. However, the ABL program office agreed to apply a weapons systems SSAA to the second, operational aircraft, the report states.

MDA has systems engineering and security problems because it tries to integrate a wide range of agency projects.

The MDA Engineering Directorate told the DOD IG that the agency had not prepared a systems engineering plan earlier because it was still developing a systems engineering process.

The directorate said preparing the systems engineering plan was difficult because MDA could not initially design BMDS from the top down. Instead, it needed to integrate existing elements into the BMDS.

The DOD IG report states that applying systems engineering is difficult because MDA works with many programs in different development stages while attempting to field a test bed capability for BMDS.

Samson said MDA faces a complex task in making a variety of systems work together, a task which demands systems engineering.

The DOD IG said that MDA concurred with its recommendations that the agency will establish a comprehensive systems engineering plan that will focus on achieving the technical objectives for BMDS.


  • Budget
    Stock photo ID: 134176955 By Richard Cavalleri

    House passes stopgap spending bill

    The current appropriations bills are set to expire on Oct. 1; the bill now goes to the Senate where it is expected to pass.

  • Defense
    concept image of radio communication (DARPA)

    What to look for in DOD's coming spectrum strategy

    Interoperability, integration and JADC2 are likely to figure into an updated electromagnetic spectrum strategy expected soon from the Department of Defense.

Stay Connected