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GAO Details Cost Growth in DOD Space Programs

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 08-Apr-2013
Updated: 19-Apr-2013 05:08 AM

In its annual assessment of major defense acquisition programs, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) laid out the cost growth affecting many of those programs, including space programs.  The Space-Based Infrared System High Component (SBIRS-High) leads the pack for space programs with a nearly 300 percent cost growth, with Wideband Global Satcom not far behind.

A table at the end of the report shows the cost changes for each of the Department of Defense's (DOD's) major defense acquisition programs (MDAPs) in 2012.    The table compares the "current estimated total acquisition cost" to the "first full estimated acquisition cost" in three ways:  the change since that first estimate was made, the change over just the past year, and the change over the past five years.   Focusing only on the change since the first estimate was made, GAO reports the percent change for each space program in its list as follows:

  • Advanced Extremely High Frequency (AEHF) communications satellite program: 119.2 percent (from $6.556 billion to $14.372 billion)
  • Global Broadcast Service:  104.9 percent (from $593 million to $1.215 billion)
  • Global Positioning System (GPS) III:  4.5 percent (from $4.056 billion to $4.239 billion)
  • Mobile User Objective System (MUOS):  4.6 percent (from $6.917 billion to $7.234 billion)
  • Navstar Global Positioning System (GPS):  27.9 percent (from $7.415 billion to $9.483 billion)
  • Navstar GPS Space & Control:  23.8 percent (from $6.397 billion to $7.917 billion)
  • Navstar GPS User Equipment:  54 percent (from $1.018 billion to $1.567 billion)
  • Space-Based Infrared System High Component (SBRIS-High):  298.8 percent (from $4.731 billion to $18.868 billion)
  • Wideband Global SATCOM (WGS):  235 percent (from $1.229 billion to $4.116 billion)

The table also lists the canceled National Polar-orbiting Operational Environmental Satellite System (NPOESS) that, not surprisingly, shows a cost reduction since it was, in fact, terminated.

The cost growth in those space programs are not the highest of all the MDAPs.  The MQ-9 Unmanned Aircraft System (UAS) Reaper's cost increased 359.8 percent (from $2.714 billion to $12.476 billion); the MQ-1C Unmanned Aircraft System (UAS) Gray Eagle grew 354.2 percent (from $1.045 billion to $4.745 billion); the DDG 51 Arleigh Burke Class Guided Missile Destroyer's cost is up 335.7 percent (from $15.629 billion to $103.166 billion); and the Tactical Tomahawk Block IV grew 239.9 percent (from $2.178 billion to $7.402 billion).  None of those begins to compare, however, with the 1581.1 percent increase of the C-130J Hercules military transport aircraft program (from $977 million to $16.418 billion).

GAO picked 64 programs for a more detailed review.  They included programs in development or early production, future programs, and recently canceled programs.   Not all are included in the list at the end of its report.

Those 64 include the Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle (EELV) program; Space Fence, a set of ground-based radars that will be used to track space objects (replacing the Air Force's Space Surveillance System), the Ballistic Missile Defense Organization's Precision Tracking Space System (PTSS) for space-based persistent tracking of ballistic missiles, and the Enhanced Polar System (EPS) of extremely high frequency (EHF) communications payloads on classified polar orbiting satellites.  

GAO said that the EELV program's cost is estimated at $69.6 billion for 150 launches through 2030.   That is $34.6 billion more than what DOD reported in its March 2012 Selected Acquisition Report, which estimated costs for 91 launches through 2020.   EELV program officials reportedly told GAO that the reasons for the cost growth included the extra 10 years and 59 launches, as well as "the inherently unstable nature of the demand for launch services, and industrial base instability."  A new acquisition baseline for the program was approved in early 2013, GAO states.

The report contains no recommendations.  Instead, GAO makes nine observations about DOD's acquisition of major weapons systems generally, not specific programs.  Among the observations is that, overall, the performance of DOD's major acquisition portfolio has improved since last year.


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