The U.S. Defense Department did not thoroughly look at alternatives before canceling a constellation of proposed missile tracking satellites earlier this year, according to a new report from the Government Accountability Office (GAO). 

Plans for the Precision Tracking Space System (PTSS), designed to track missile as they coast through space during the mid-course portion of flight, was officially canceled in the 2014 budget request sent to Capitol Hill in April. But the actual decision was made several months earlier, the GAO said.

The U.S. Missile Defense Agency had planned to procure a pair of prototype PTSS satellites from the Johns Hopkins University’s Applied Physics Laboratory of Laurel, Md. A number of contractors were angling for what likely would have been a multibillion-dollar contract to build the operational system.

But as part of the National Defense Authorization Act for 2013, Congress directed the Pentagon to conduct an evaluation of PTSS alternatives and share the resulting report with the relevant defense committees. In the bill, lawmakers said the exercise would find “less expensive and just as effective, if not more effective, means of providing added sensor coverage to the defense of the United States.” 

But that analysis was never done, according to the GAO report, which was released July 25.

Pentagon officials determined in fall 2012 “that other systems could potentially satisfy many of the PTSS performance objectives,” the report said.

Senior Pentagon officials told GAO investigators that the secretary of defense decided to cancel PTSS in November 2012 after concluding that continuing the program entailed “significant technical, programmatic, and affordability risks,” the report said.  That decision was made prior to the January 2013 enactment of the law mandating the analysis, the GAO said. 

The MDA is developing a new approach for upgrading missile defense sensor technology, the report said.


Missile Tracking System Axed in Otherwise ‘Status Quo’ Budget