The Department of Defense Office of the Inspector General (DOD OIG) plans to evaluate 11 separate efforts related to space, nuclear deterrence and missile defense in fiscal year 2019, including whether the Air Force properly certified SpaceX for military launch missions.

The DOD OIG released its fiscal year 2019 oversight plan last December with little fanfare, where it details a number of efforts meant to maintain transparency and oversight over the vast department.

SpaceX launched a Falcon 9 containing the EUTELSAT 115 West B and ABS-3A satellites. Photo: SpaceX.

“At a time when other nations are modernizing and upgrading their nuclear forces, nearly all elements of the U.S. nuclear weapon stockpile, delivery systems, and other critical infrastructure are operating well beyond their designed service life,” the oversight plan says. “The DoD is faced with the challenge of simultaneously sustaining legacy space and nuclear systems while modernizing and replacing these systems to meet future threats.”

In order to track the department’s progress in addressing these issues, the inspector general will conduct audits on various space, missile defense and nuclear deterrence initiatives, the report said. “These projects will provide oversight of supply chain risks, security, fielding, testing, and certification of space, ballistic missile defense, and nuclear systems and policies.”

One such project involves evaluating the Air Force’s certification of the Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle (EELV)-Class SpaceX Launch Vehicles for use with national security space payloads, the report said. The inspection will involve the company’s Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy launch vehicles, which were certified to carry national security missions in 2015.

The Air Force in December successfully launched the first GPS III satellite, built by Lockheed Martin [LMT], aboard a Falcon 9 rocket.

The purpose of the evaluation is to “Determine whether the Air Force adhered to its Launch Services New Entrant Certification Guide in verifying the reliability of the SpaceX Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy launch vehicles,” per the oversight plan report. “SpaceX’s Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy launch vehicles constitute the most recent family of Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicles, capable of providing access to space with intermediate and larger class payloads. The Launch Services New Entrant Certification Guide serves as a risk-based approach that the Air Force’s Space and Missile Systems Center uses to certify the launch vehicle capabilities of potential new entrant launch providers.

Bloomberg reported Monday evening that Michael J. Roark, deputy inspector general for intelligence and special program assessments, had sent a letter to Air Force leadership informing them of plans to investigate and requesting contact information.

“Our objective is to determine whether the U.S. Air Force complied with the Launch Services New Entrant Certification Guide when certifying the launch system design for the Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle-class SpaceX Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy launch vehicles,” said the letter, dated Feb. 11.

The evaluation is due to begin this month, Roark added. The letter was addressed to Heather Wilson, the service secretary, as well as Air Force Space Command Commander Gen. Jay Raymond and the service’s auditor general, Doug Bennett.

The Air Force referred all queries to the inspector general’s office. SpaceX did not return a request for comment.

The evaluation was “a self-initiated project” by DOD OIG, said Dwrena K. Allen, an office spokeswoman, adding, “It is one of the key projects in the OIG’s expanding oversight focus on the Department of Defense’s space, missile defense, and nuclear management challenges.”

In addition to analyzing the SpaceX certification, the DOD OIG will also scrutinize Air Force programs such as the Space-Based Infrared System (SBIRS), and whether its current and future capabilities are consistent with DoD requirements, especially as related to redundancy and mitigation plans. SBIRS is the service’s early missile warning satellite system built by Lockheed, expected to be replaced by the Next-Generation Overhead Persistent Infrared program in the next decade.

The Pentagon’s Ground-Based Midcourse Defense (GMD) system, which is meant to intercept incoming intermediate- and long-range missiles in space, will be analyzed to determine whether the Missile Defense Agency (MDA) has properly identified and addressed the cause of test failures experienced since its deployment in 2004. According to the Missile Defense Advocacy Alliance, the program has experienced at least five test failures over its program lifespan. The MDA in January 2018 awarded Boeing [BA] a $6.56 billion contract modification to extend its development and sustainment contract (DSC) for the GMD program (Defense Daily, Feb. 12, 2018).

Another program being targeted is the Integrated Enterprise Ground Services Environment, which is expected to result in a more resilient, unified common satellite ground system architecture. DoD OIG will study whether the program will actually resolve “transition challenges of integrating legacy systems,” the report said.

The Pentagon underwent its first-ever audit in 2018, and failed, although the outcome was predicted by numerous agency officials (Defense Daily, Nov. 16, 2018)