A U.S. ICBM in its silo. Credit: U.S. Department of Defense

WASHINGTON – While the U.S Air Force is taking more steps to oversee nuclear command, control, and communications (NC3), the service must focus more on short-term problems than long-term issues, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) says in its report, “Nuclear Command, Control, and Communications: Update on Air Force Oversight Effort and Selected Acquisition Programs,” released Aug. 15.

A U.S. ICBM in its silo. Credit: U.S. Department of Defense
A U.S. ICBM in its silo. Credit: U.S. Department of Defense Credit: U.S. Department of Defense

NC3 “is a large and complex system comprised of numerous land-, air-, sea-, and space-based components used to ensure connectivity between the President and nuclear forces,” the GAO notes. “The current NC3 architecture consists of components that support day-to-day nuclear and conventional operations prior to a nuclear event as well as those that provide survivable, secure, and enduring communications through all nuclear threat environments.”

The Pentagon is pursuing several acquisition programs to modernize elements of NC3, GAO says, while the Air Force, which is responsible for the majority of military NC3 assets, has begun establishing an oversight structure for its NC3 capabilities and programs.

“We found that the Air Force has continued to take steps to provide an Air Force-wide NC3 oversight structure for the NC3 weapon system,” GAO says, “but its focus has mainly been on short-term issues to sustain the current systems as it added personnel for its new NC3 oversight structure. According to Air Force officials, the Air Force has built up its understanding of the short-term sustainment needs for the 62 component systems that currently make up the NC3 weapon system, but has not had the resources to focus on the long-term needs for NC3.”

GAO says it provided earlier in-depth, classified briefings to congressional defense committee staff on its research in May and June. “The Aug. 15 report is an unclassified summary of those classified briefings, which expanded on our findings in a classified January 2017 report.”

Mike Fabey is SpaceNews' senior staff writer covering military and national security space matters. Mike previously covered as Defense News’ air and space warfare reporter in 2005 and 2006. Mike was an Aviation Week...