Military Space Quarterly | GAO Says European Missile Shield Faces Operational, Budgeting Issues

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WASHINGTON — The U.S. Defense Department faces potential operational challenges with its European missile shield because it did not fully resolve implementation issues prior to initial deployment, according to a new report by the U.S. Government Accountability Office.

Moreover, the Pentagon does not fully understand the life-cycle costs of various elements of the European Phased Adaptive Approach (EPAA), an issue that could lead to future budgeting inefficiencies, the congressional watchdog agency said. These include Aegis Ashore, under which variants of the Standard Missile (SM)-3 interceptor currently deployed on U.S. Navy ships will be installed in Romania and Poland.

The April 11 report, titled “Ballistic Missile Defense: Actions Needed to Address Implementation Issues and Estimate Long-Term Costs for European Capabilities,” said the first phase of the EPAA was up and operating in 2011, as scheduled. That capability, intended to defend against medium-range threats, features SM-3 Block 1A interceptors aboard U.S. Navy ships patrolling the Mediterranean, along with a forward-based radar in Turkey and various command and control systems.

But in an example of the issues that were not resolved prior to deployment, the soldiers sent to Turkey to man the transportable radar arrived to find incomplete housing, dining and other facilities, the GAO said.

“According to officials, construction could not be completed prior to deploying the forward-based radar due to compressed deadlines in order to meet the presidentially announced time frame,” the report said. “As a result, Army officials stated that soldiers arrived at the remote mountain-top radar site in winter conditions, and their tent-based expeditionary facilities — though climate controlled and equipped with latrines, showers, and other basic facilities — were initially unable to withstand the conditions.”

In addition, the initial system was deployed before the Defense Department had established procedures both for sharing radar data across U.S. combatant commands and for operating in concert with U.S. allies in the region, the GAO said. U.S. Strategic Command has overall responsibility for missile defense planning and operations, but European Command and Central Command operate relevant assets in the region.

The GAO attributed these issues to the Pentagon’s acceptance procedures for new missile defense capabilities, which the report said do not explicitly require the military services, combatant commands or the Missile Defense Agency to develop plans to resolve implementation issues prior to deployment.

Under Phase 2 of the EPAA, slated for implementation by the end of 2015, U.S. Aegis ships operating in the Mediterranean would be outfitted with more-capable SM-3 Block 1B interceptors, which also would be installed in Romania as part of Aegis Ashore. Phase 3, targeted for 2018, introduces the SM-3 Block 2A interceptor, capable of addressing medium- and intermediate-range threats, and would extend Aegis Ashore to Poland.

In a press release dated April 23, SM-3 prime contractor Raytheon Missile Systems of Tucson, Ariz., said the Block 1B variant of the interceptor had been deployed for the first time aboard a Navy vessel. The release said work began in October on the Aegis Ashore site in Romania, with SM-3 Block 1B on track for deployment there in 2015, and that the first test of a land-based variant of the interceptor is scheduled for this year in Hawaii.

Nonetheless, these future elements also could be affected by what the GAO characterized as the disconnect between acceptance procedures and actual operational requirements.

For example, the Defense Department has not fully coordinated the use of radar frequencies for the Aegis Ashore program, the report said. Some of the frequencies in question have been allocated by the host nations for civilian applications, including mobile telephones, the report said.

U.S. and Romanian officials in 2013 were able to agree on a plan that will allow Aegis Ashore and mobile phone services to “coexist, with restrictions, by early 2015,” the report said. “In Poland, however, resolving frequency range access issues is more complex,” in part because the region is more congested, which increases the possibility of cross-border interference.

Complicating the matter is the fact that Poland is in the process of issuing new commercial operating licenses in frequencies that overlap with those the Aegis Ashore system is designed to use, the report said. “This process may affect the time frame for resolving Aegis Ashore’s access to these frequencies,” the GAO said.

Other capabilities that could be compromised include potential deployment in Europe of capabilities that are not part of the current EPAA plan, including the Patriot and Theater High Altitude Area Defense systems, the GAO said.

Meanwhile, the Defense Department has not developed estimates of the full life-cycle costs of all EPAA program elements including the Theater High Altitude Area Defense and associated radars, in part because it is not known where they might be deployed, and Aegis Ashore. In the absence of this information, which needs to be updated as key programmatic decisions are made, it will be difficult for the relevant Pentagon agencies to efficiently allocated resources for these programs on an annual basis, the GAO said.

The GAO made a number of recommendations, including having the relevant combatant commands resolve implementation questions on EPAA assets before they are deployed and developing comprehensive life-cycle cost estimates for all elements of the system. The Defense Department concurred with all of the recommendations but noted that U.S. Strategic Command does not have the authority or mission to resolve implementation issues.