The U.S. Air Force does not have adequate resources to address the long-term needs of its nuclear command, control and communications (NC3) systems, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) said Aug. 15.
“We found that the Air Force has continued to take steps to provide an Air Force-wide NC3 oversight structure for the NC3 Weapon System, but its focus has mainly been on short-term issues to sustain the current systems as it added personnel for its new NC3 oversight structure,” the GAO wrote in a new report. “According to Air Force officials, the Air Force has built up its understanding of the short-term sustainment needs for the 62 component systems that currently make up the NC3 weapon system, but has not had the resources to focus on the long-term needs for NC3.”
The Department of Defense’s overall NC3 system consists of air, land, sea and space components that allow the president to communicate with nuclear forces. The Air Force is responsible for a majority of those assets.
In a February report, the Congressional Budget Office estimated that operating, maintaining and modernizing DoD’s NC3 systems over the next decade will cost $34 billion. Modernization efforts include replacing the aging Boeing [BA] E-4B National Airborne Operations Center aircraft.
The GAO, which reviewed eight NC3 acquisition programs, found that each has made progress toward meeting its goals but that most still have challenges. Four programs have tight schedules that could cause delays if problems arise, and two programs plan to move into development without ensuring their requirements are affordable and feasible.
The Family of Advanced Beyond Line of Sight Terminal (FAB-T), one of the programs the GAO reviewed, recently received a jolt of bad news. Two House members revealed in late July that a full-rate production decision has been delayed a year. Raytheon [RTN] is the prime contractor the FAB-T program, which is supposed to field terminals to use the Air Force’s Advanced Extremely High Frequency protected-communication satellites.
The GAO report is a relatively short six pages. The watchdog agency said it gave more details to congressional defense panel staff in classified briefings in May and June.
DoD declined to comment on a draft of the report, according to the GAO.