Missile-tracking project beset by software troubles, GAO says

The $4.4 billion sensor system the Air Force is developing to track ballistic missile attacks suffers from software deficiencies, cost increases and schedule overruns, the General Accounting Office has concluded.

The Space-Based Infrared System High Program is supposed to consolidate all military infrared surveillance into an integrated system that can warn of and track ballistic missile attacks. As the lead agency for the project, the Air Force hired Lockheed Martin Corp. to develop SBIRS High.

In May, tests of the first SBIRS High infrared sensor revealed problems with the flight software's ability to track missiles while the sensor was orbiting the Earth, GAO reported last week.

'Since the SBIRS program's inception in 1996, it has been burdened by immature technologies, unclear requirements, unstable funding, underestimated software complexity and other problems that have resulted in mounting cost overruns and delays,' R.E. Levin, GAO's director of acquisition and sourcing management, noted in the report (PDF link).

GAO recommended that Defense Department secretary Donald Rumsfeld direct the Air Force to form an independent task force to review the program and suggest ways to get the SBIRS High back on track.

The report said the review should answer four questions:

  • Can the system be developed within current cost and schedule estimates?

  • Will the design meet performance requirements?

  • Are the contractor's software development procedures and practices at least rated at a Level 3 of the Software Engineering Institute's Capability Maturity Model for Integration?

  • Does the Air Force have the management mechanisms in place to achieve the intended objectives?

  • Letitia A. Long, deputy undersecretary of Defense for policy, requirements and resources, said DOD 'will take under advisement the GAO recommendation.'

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