The Missile Defense Agency (MDA) expects delays in building the Poland missile defense site in the European missile defense program, pushing completion by 18 months to May 2020.

MDA also curtailed testing of the system.

The Government Accountability Office’s (GAO) annual report on missile defense said the Poland Aegis Ashore site, known as Phase 3 of the European Phased Adaptive Approach (EPAA) missile defense program was delayed from its original expected delivery date of December 2018. Delays were “primarily driven by military construction contractor performance issues,” the report said.

The Aegis Ashore site at Deveselu Air Base, Romania. It was the final component of Phase II of the European Phased Adaptive Approach (EPAA) missile defense program. (Photo: Missile Defense Agency)

The EPAA program aims to defend U.S. allies and assets from potential intermediate range ballistic missile (IRBM) from Iran. It uses the Aegis ballistic missile defense (BMD) system which is used on cruisers and destroyers. Phase 1 consists of a radar in Turkey, command center in Germany, and ballistic missile defense Aegis destroyers deployed to Europe; Phase 2 consists of an Aegis Ashore site in Deveselu, Romania; while Phase 3 consists of the second Aegis Ashore site in Poland.

Last year, former MDA Director Lt. Gen. Samuel Greaves first revealed the Poland delay in testimony before a Senate panel (Defense Daily, March 23, 2018). In a subsequent hearing, he said the delay was caused by less than expected performance from the construction contractor, partially related to particularly bad rain weather (Defense Daily, April 13, 2018).

Lockheed Martin [LMT] is the prime contractor for the Aegis system while the Army Corps of Engineers has a military construction contract with the Wood Group to build the Poland Aegis Ashore site.

The GAO report said as delays at the site continued to accumulate, the agency at first planned to make up for them by increasing concurrency between the construction and installation/checkout phases as well as concurrently working at the sites in Romania and Poland.

GAO noted this increasing concurrency posed a “growing risk” for the program to achieve its target delivery date. Eventually the agency decided to delay delivery to 2020.

The report said MDA experienced various testing disruptions, like delays and failures, throughout Phase 3 development. This resulted in Phase 3 delivering “with less data than planned about performance against planned threats.”

Phase 3 disruptions started in 2016 when the agency delayed the first two intercept flight tests of the Aegis Standard Missile (SM)-3 Block IIA interceptor, which MDA plans to field in Phase 3. While it was later successfully tested in February 2017, “testing difficulties continued when it failed the second intercept flight test.”

Raytheon [RTN] builds the various Standard Missile variants, including the SM-3 IIA.

The SM-3 IIA had a rocky few years. In early 2017 the missile destroyed its first ballistic missile target, but the second test in June 2017 failed when a sailor accidentally directed the interceptor to self-destruct. Then in January 2018 the interceptor missed a ballistic missile target.

Finally, in October 2018 MDA conducted a successful SM-3 IIA test against a medium-range ballistic missile target and in December 2018 an SM-3 IIA successfully hit an intermediate-range ballistic missile (IRBM) target (Defense Daily, Dec. 11, 2018).

GAO noted that while MDA said the October 2018 test against a medium range target was sufficient to assess fixes, according to MDA documents “the test against a medium range target does not provide the same challenges as an intermediate range target.”

Moreover, the December 2018 test reduced its scope from an originally planned raid against two targets, partially due to a test range safety asset malfunction. The report said MDA explained these two were sufficient to finish flight testing requirements for Phase II and adding further tests “would be disruptive to their overall test plan.”

As a result, GAO said “our analysis indicates that flight testing to demonstrate EPAA Phase 3 performance against IRBMs—the goal of Phase 3—has been reduced by 80 percent and even with the added 18-month delay, MDA no longer plans to conduct a flight test against a raid prior to delivery in fiscal year 2020.”

The original Phase 3 plan had five IRBM intercepts in three tests, including testing to assess capability against small raids with simultaneous intercepts of multiple missiles before delivery. In contrast, the current plan reduces IRBM intercepts and does not include a raid test until after Phase 3 capability is declared.

GAO underscored this plan reduces the data needed to support EPAA Phase 3 capability and limitation assertions, even with the 18-month Poland construction delay.

The report recommended MDA use the extra schedule margin added by the construction delays as “an opportunity to build more knowledge in that area. EPAA Phase 3 intends to provide a robust defense against IRBM and raids of multiple targets, but tests to demonstrate that capability have been reduced from five to one.”

Figure 3 from the GAO annual Missile Defense report, comparing the original Missile Defense Agency EPAA Phase 3 Flight Testing plan to the current plan. (Image: GAO).
Figure 3 from the GAO annual Missile Defense report, comparing the original Missile Defense Agency EPAA Phase 3 Flight Testing plan to the current plan. (Image: GAO).

While the Defense Department agreed the extra time is useful, the department plans to only add additional ground tests, not flight tests. In response, GAO said “additional flight testing to demonstrate capability against EPAA Phase 3 threats is necessary.”

Furthermore, GAO contended the earlier testing disruptions, which prevented MDA from testing Aegis BMD against some expected threat types, ranges, and raid sizes, means using models and simulations-based ground tests in place of flight tests “could be problematic.”

“Specifically, we have previously reported that some of MDA’s models and simulations used in its ground tests do not provide realistic representation of the BMDS, the environments it encounters, or the modeled threats,” the report said.

Some parts of Aegis BMD 5.1 will not be validated until after phase 3 delivery. “Relying on unaccredited models increases chances for modeling errors, and a single undetected modeling error can distort the results for the entire assessment,” GAO said.

DoD said there is no margin for more flight tests due to “the evolutionary nature of the BMDS acquisition.”

GAO countered while this would cost more in funds and coordination, the reduction in Phase 3 testing “constitutes a significant reduction in performance data and decreases warfighter’s knowledge base about how best to deploy a system under operationally realistic conditions, such as raids.”