An annual Government Accountability Office (GAO) report on missile defense revealed design issues with the Redesigned Kill Vehicle (RKV) are expected to increase costs by almost $600 million.

GAO said this came after the RKV program was unable to meet its cost and schedule milestones throughout fiscal year 2018 following attempted acceleration stemming from the DoD Missile Defeat and Defense Enhancements Appropriations Act of 2018 (MDDE) (Defense Daily, Dec. 21, 2017).

Two Ground-Based Interceptors (GBI) launch from Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif. on March 25, 2019, in the first salvo test of an ICBM target. The GBIs successfully intercepted a target launched from the Ronald Reagan Ballistic Missile Defense Test Site on Kwajalein Atoll. (Photo: Missile Defense Agency)
Two Ground-Based Interceptors (GBI) launch from Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif. on March 25, 2019, in the first salvo test of an ICBM target. The GBIs successfully intercepted a target launched from the Ronald Reagan Ballistic Missile Defense Test Site on Kwajalein Atoll. (Photo: Missile Defense Agency)

This law planned an increase in Ground-based Midcourse Defense system Ground-Based Interceptors (GBIs) from 44 to 64 by 2023, with each hosting an RKV, “accelerating the latter program’s schedule by approximately one year.” DoD and the Trump administration presented the MDDE to Congress after North Korea tested a new intercontinental ballistic missile in July 2017.

The majority of GBIs are based in missile fields at Fort Greely, Alaska.

“Specifically, the prime contractor has reported accumulating negative cost and schedule variances with no signs of arresting these trends. The contractor also reported inefficiencies stemming from bringing large numbers of new staff onto the project, as well as requiring more personnel for the project than they originally anticipated,” the report said.

The GAO said MDA explained that as FY ’18 progressed, the program found “some critical components would not meet performance requirements” and therefore they postponed the critical design review from FY ’18 to FY ’21.

MDA also delayed fielding 20 additional GBIs, set to feature the RKV, past its original goal of 2023. The agency revealed the two-year RKV delays in its FY ’20 budget request in March (Defense Daily, March 12).

Then, last month, the Under Secretary of Defense for Research and Engineering Mike Griffin directed MDA to issue a stop-work order to prime contractor Boeing [BA] on the RKV (Defense Daily, May 24).

GAO noted this stop-work order occurred only a few days before GAO issued its report “as such, we were not able to assess the affects and incorporate the information in our report.”

After MDDE passed, the RKV program adopted a new program schedule to partially support the accelerated schedule to deploy by 2023, requiring concurrency in some areas.

GAO noted the original RKV strategy avoided concurrency by aligning production decisions with flight test. After this change, the program started “procuring some components before completing qualification testing. Now qualification testing would only be completed around the same time as the planned first flight test.”

MDA planned to award an RKV production contract for Lot 1 and long-lead materials for Lot 2 after the major design review and before the flight test designated CTV-03+ scheduled for the first quarter of FY ’20. After the flight test, the program planned to award a production contract for Lot 2 and long-lead materials for Lot 3. Then when the RKV program completed the first intercept test in the first quarter of FY ’21, designated FTG-17, MDA planned to award the production contract for the final planned lot, Lot 3.

While MDA tried to accelerate RKV development under MDDE, “the program accepted too much risk and has since experienced development challenges that set the program back likely by over two years and increased the program’s cost by nearly $600 million, according to the agency,” GAO said.

Specifically, MDA accelerated RKV developments by concurrently performing development and production and reducing the number of necessary flight tests to produce and field new RKV-equipped interceptors.

This added to previous RKV development delays that made the program operate “with no schedule margin for any further delays as it approached a critical design review in October 2018.” Thereafter, the program encountered design, systems engineering, quality assurance, and manufacturing issues, resulting in the RKV program postponing the critical design review, the report said.

The Missile Defense Agency (MDA) and U.S. Navy sailors manning the Aegis Ashore Missile Defense Test Complex (AAMDTC) at the Pacific Missile Range Facility (PMRF) in Kauai, Hawaii, successfully conduct launch a Standard Missile-3 Block IIA interceptor in Flight Test Integrated-03 (FTI-03). (Photo: Missile Defense Agency)

GAO found the “most significant development issue” in 2018 pertained to the RKV’s planned use of commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) hardware and re-use of Aegis Standard Missile (SM)-3 Block IIA components.

The SM-3 IIA is being developed cooperatively by the U.S. and Japan in the Aegis missile defense system to be used from Aegis-equipped ships or Aegis Ashore sites.

After MDA understood these risks, it implemented a recovery plan trying to minimize adding more risk by prioritizing controlling technical risks over preserving the 2023 fielding goal. This resulted in the two-year delay.

The report said by GAO’s review time and before the stop-work order, the RKV recovery plan projected it would conduct the critical design review in early FY ’21, a non-intercept flight test in FY ’22, an intercept test in FY ’23, and start deployment a few months later.

Extending the timeline gave the program more time to source or design new components before moving to testing and production while production decision points remained aligned to the critical design review and flight tests, GAO said.

The report approvingly noted this new plan “placed greater emphasis on addressing technical risks rather than fielding deadlines to determine RKV’s path forward.”

GAO said it has found stabilizing design before making major production commitments and relying on knowledge over deadlines for acquisition decisions at milestones are best practices.

The report also said the GAO repeatedly raised concerns with the RKV using the COTS and SM-3 IIA components and its aggressive schedule. A May 2017 GAO report recommended DoD perform a comprehensive review of RKV, which “could have potentially provided DoD with a better understanding of RKV’s technical and schedule risks.”

GAO now said “even though some of these risks have since manifested, we continue to believe an independent, thorough vetting of RKV’s acquisition risks is necessary, as we previously recommended.”