oversight

Defense Acquisitions: DOD Efforts to Develop Laser Weapons for Theater Defense

Published by the Government Accountability Office on 1999-03-31.

Below is a raw (and likely hideous) rendition of the original report. (PDF)

                  United States General Accounting Office

GAO               Report to Congressional Requesters




March 1999
                  DEFENSE
                  ACQUISITIONS

                  DOD Efforts to
                  Develop Laser
                  Weapons for Theater
                  Defense




GAO/NSIAD-99-50
GAO   United States
      General Accounting Office
      Washington, D.C. 20548                                      Leter




      National Security and
      International Affairs Division                                                                  Leter




      B-279125                                                                                  Letter

      March 31, 1999

      The Honorable Owen B. Pickett
      Ranking Minority Member
      Subcommittee on Military Research and Development
      Committee on Armed Services
      House of Representatives

      The Honorable John M. Spratt, Jr.
      Ranking Minority Member
      Committee on the Budget
      House of Representatives

      This report responds to your request that we conduct a review of Department of Defense
      (DOD) programs to develop laser weapons for missile defense. Specifically, you asked us to
      (1) identify what laser weapons are being considered for missile defense and the coordination
      among the program offices developing the systems, (2) determine the current status and cost
      of each system, and (3) identify the technical challenges each system faces as determined by
      DOD program managers and analysts and other laser system experts. The report recommends
      that the Secretary of Defense direct the Secretary of the Air Force to reconsider plans to
      exercise the option for the second ABL aircraft for the engineering and manufacturing
      development phase of the Airborne Laser program before flight testing of the Airborne Laser
      system developed during the program definition and risk reduction phase has demonstrated
      that the Airborne Laser concept is an achievable, effective combat system.

      We are sending copies of this report to Senator Pete V. Domenici, Senator Daniel K. Inouye,
      Senator Carl Levin, ’’Senator Frank R. Lautenberg, Senator Joseph I. Lieberman, Senator Rick
      Santorum, Senator Ted Stevens, Senator John W. Warner, Representative Duncan L. Hunter,
      Representative John R. Kasich, Representative Jerry Lewis, Representative John P. Murtha,
      Representative David R. Obey, Representative Norman Sisisky, Representative Ike Skelton,
      Representative Floyd D. Spence, Representative Curt Weldon, and Representative C.W. Bill
      Young in their capacities as Chair or Ranking Minority Member of Senate and House
      Committees and Subcommittees. We are also sending copies of this report to the Honorable
      William Cohen, Secretary of Defense; the Honorable F. Whitten Peters, Acting Secretary of the
      Air Force; the Honorable Louis Caldera, Secretary of the Army; the Honorable Jacob Lew,
      Director, Office of Management and Budget; and Lieutenant General Lester L. Lyles, Director,
      Ballistic Missile Defense Organization. Copies will also be made available to others on request.
B-279125




Please contact me at (202) 512-4841 if you or your staff have any questions
concerning this report. Major contributors to this report are listed in
appendix II.




Louis J. Rodrigues
Director, Defense Acquisitions Issues




Page 2                                     GAO/NSIAD-99-50 Defense Acquisitions
Executive Summary



Purpose            The Ranking Minority Member, House Committee on the Budget, and the
                   Ranking Minority Member, Subcommittee on Military Research and
                   Development, House Committee on Armed Services, asked GAO to review
                   the Department of Defense’s (DOD) programs to develop laser weapons for
                   missile defense to (1) identify the laser weapons being considered for
                   missile defense and the coordination among the program offices
                   developing the systems, (2) determine the current status and cost of each
                   system, and (3) identify the technical challenges each system faces as
                   determined by DOD program managers and analysts and other laser system
                   experts.



Background         DOD is developing a variety of weapon systems as part of its Theater
                   Missile Defense program. The first generation of these weapons uses
                   interceptor missiles to intercept and destroy enemy missiles in the latter
                   stages of their flight. Included among these systems are the Patriot
                   Advanced Capability-3, an improved version of the Patriot system that was
                   used during the Gulf War; Navy Area Defense; Medium Extended Air
                   Defense System; Theater High Altitude Air Defense; and Navy Theater Wide
                   system.

                   In addition, DOD is developing ballistic missile defense systems that will
                   use laser beams to destroy enemy missiles. These systems, as well as a
                   system that is to be used to destroy short-range artillery rockets, are the
                   focus of this report.



Results in Brief   DOD is developing two laser weapons--the Airborne Laser (ABL) and the
                   Space-Based Laser (SBL)--which U.S. forces intend to use to destroy enemy
                   ballistic missiles. Additionally, in a joint effort with Israel, DOD is
                   developing a ground-based laser weapon, the Tactical High Energy Laser
                   (THEL), which Israel will use to defend its northern cities against
                   short-range rockets. ABL is funded and managed by the Air Force, SBL is
                   jointly funded by the Ballistic Missile Defense Organization and the Air
                   Force and managed by the Air Force, and THEL is funded jointly with Israel
                   and managed by the Army. The respective program offices are
                   coordinating the development of these programs through various means of
                   information sharing.

                   ABL, SBL, and THEL are in varying stages of development ranging from
                   conceptual design studies to integration and testing of system components.


                   Page 3                                      GAO/NSIAD-99-50 Defense Acquisitions
Executive Summary




• The ABL program is in the program definition and risk reduction
  (PDRR) acquisition phase1 and is scheduled for full operational
  capability in 2009, with a total of seven ABLs. This schedule reflects a
  1-year delay from the original schedule. The Air Force attributes this
  slippage to a congressional funding cut and to an expanded test
  program. The Air Force estimates the life-cycle cost of the ABL to be
  about $11 billion.
• The SBL program is about a year into a $30-million study phase to define
  concepts for the design, development, and deployment of a proof of
  concept demonstrator. DOD estimates that it will cost about $3 billion
  to develop and deploy the demonstrator. The future of the SBL program
  is unknown at this time, pending the outcome of a DOD assessment of
  the program.
• The $131.5-million THEL Advanced Concept Technology Demonstration
  program is about 34 months into a 38-month program. System
  components have been built, but system testing has been delayed from
  December 1998 to July 1999 due to administrative and technical
  problems. The United States is contributing $106.8 million toward the
  program cost and Israel is contributing $24.7 million.

Laser experts agree that the ABL, SBL, and THEL face significant technical
challenges. The ABL program has made progress in addressing some
technical challenges, such as completing the collection of non-optical
atmospheric turbulence data from the Korean and Middle East theaters.
However, in commenting on a draft of this report, DOD officials stated that
while the Air Force’s analyses of these data argue that the design
specification established for atmospheric turbulence is generally accurate,
DOD has yet to reach a final position on this issue. The technical
complexity of the ABL program has caused some laser experts to conclude
that the ABL planned flight test schedule is compressed and too dependent
on the assumption that tests will be successful and therefore does not
allow enough time and resources to deal with potential test failures and to
prove the ABL concept. GAO believes that the Air Force should reconsider
its plan to order a second ABL aircraft before flight tests demonstrate that
the ABL system can shoot down enemy ballistic missiles.




1
  This phase consists of steps necessary to verify preliminary design and engineering, build prototypes,
accomplish necessary planning, and fully analyze trade-off proposals. The objective is to validate the
choice of alternatives and to provide the basis for determining whether to proceed into the next phase
(engineering and manufacturing development) of the acquisition process.




Page 4                                                     GAO/NSIAD-99-50 Defense Acquisitions
                          Executive Summary




                          SBL program management has characterized the SBL demonstrator as the
                          most complex spacecraft the United States has ever attempted to build. If
                          DOD ultimately decides to continue the program, the size and weight
                          limitations dictated by current and future launch capabilities will force the
                          program to push the state of the art in areas such as laser efficiency, laser
                          power, and deployable optics.

                          THEL's components have been produced. However, initial testing of the
                          laser has identified problems with the operation of the chemical flow
                          control valves and with the low-power laser that is to be used in tracking
                          short-range rockets the system is being designed to defeat.



Principal Findings

DOD Developing Three      The ABL is expected to be DOD's first system to intercept and destroy
Defensive Laser Weapons   enemy missiles in their boost phase several hundred kilometers away. The
                          program involves placing multimegawatt lasers, beam control systems, and
                          related equipment, in a fleet of seven Boeing 747-400 freighter aircraft.

                          The SBL is to be DOD's first space-based laser weapon and is designed to
                          provide a continuous global boost phase intercept capability for both
                          theater and national missile defense. Proposed concepts call for placing
                          multimegawatt chemical lasers, beam control systems, and related
                          components on a constellation of 20 to 35 satellites. Each SBL is to be
                          capable of destroying about 100 missiles and is to have a range of about
                          4,300 kilometers.

                          The THEL is a ground-based weapon that is being designed to destroy
                          Katyusha2 and other short-range rockets. It is to detect an incoming rocket,
                          track the rocket's path, and hold a concentrated laser beam on the rocket's
                          warhead until the beam's heat causes the warhead to detonate, destroying
                          the rocket. THEL is not designed to be powerful and mobile enough to
                          meet U.S. needs.




                          2
                            According to THEL program officials, the Katyusha rocket has a range of 8 to 24 kilometers, with a
                          flight time of 20 to 80 seconds. Its boost phase is about 1.5 seconds.




                          Page 5                                                     GAO/NSIAD-99-50 Defense Acquisitions
                         Executive Summary




Coordination Among the   The directors for the three laser development programs are coordinating
Programs                 their efforts by meeting periodically to share information on technology
                         and development issues. In addition, some of the same contractors and
                         contractor personnel are involved in all three programs, thereby increasing
                         program coordination. Further, all three programs have benefited from
                         work performed by the Air Force Research Laboratory.


Status and Cost of the   The ABL program is currently in the PDRR acquisition phase. In November
Laser Weapon Programs    1996, the Air Force awarded the PDRR contract to the team of Boeing,
                         TRW, and Lockheed Martin. Under this contract, Boeing is to produce and
                         modify a 747-400 freighter aircraft and integrate the laser and beam control
                         system with the aircraft; TRW is to develop the chemical oxygen iodine
                         laser and ground support systems; and Lockheed Martin is to develop the
                         beam control system. One prototype ABL is to be produced and used in
                         2003 in attempts to shoot down missiles in their boost phase. This
                         schedule reflects a 1-year slip in the original PDRR schedule. According to
                         the program office, this slip is due to a $25-million reduction made by
                         Congress in the fiscal year 1999 appropriation for the ABL and to an
                         expanded test program. If the 2003 demonstration is successful, the
                         program is to move into the engineering and manufacturing development
                         phase. The Air Force estimates the life-cycle cost of the ABL to be about
                         $11 billion, including $1.6 billion for the PDRR phase, $1.1 billion for the
                         engineering and manufacturing development (EMD) phase, $3.6 billion for
                         the production phase, and $4.6 billion for 20 years of operations and
                         support.

                         The SBL program office awarded two 6-month, $10 million contracts in
                         February 1998 to Lockheed Martin and TRW to obtain information needed
                         to develop an acquisition plan. It planned to award another contract in
                         August 1998 for the design, development, and deployment of the
                         demonstrator. However, that contract was not awarded because, in August
                         1998, the Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition and Technology
                         directed the Air Force to restructure the SBL strategy, including
                         considering other alternatives to the SBL. The Air Force's restructured
                         strategy shows that a demonstrator would not be launched until the 2010 to
                         2012 time frame, due to the immaturity of the required technology and the
                         projected program funding. The restructured strategy has not received
                         final approval and is not consistent with Congress' desire to launch the SBL
                         readiness demonstrator in the 2006 to 2008 time frame. At the time of
                         GAO's review, Ballistic Missile Defense Organization (BMDO) officials did
                         not know when or if the proposed restructured acquisition strategy will be


                         Page 6                                     GAO/NSIAD-99-50 Defense Acquisitions
                            Executive Summary




                            approved and ultimately submitted to Congress. If the SBL is ultimately
                            selected to proceed, DOD estimates that a fully operational system would
                            not be deployed until after 2020.

                            The $131.5 million THEL system, which is being developed by TRW and
                            Israel, is scheduled to be the first of the three systems fielded, albeit not for
                            U.S. use. The program is about 34 months into a 38-month program. The
                            United States and Israel are contributing $106.8 million and $24.7 million
                            toward the program cost, respectively. All system components have been
                            built and are in varying stages of testing and integration. Testing at White
                            Sands Missile Range against Katyusha rockets, originally scheduled for
                            December 1998, is now scheduled for July 1999, due to administrative
                            issues and technical problems with the laser and tracking system.


Technical Challenges Face   While individual components of the proposed systems have been tested
Each System                 under laboratory conditions and the program offices have conducted
                            modeling and computer simulations, none of the systems has been fully
                            integrated and tested as a complete weapon system. Until this is
                            accomplished, it is not possible to predict with any degree of certainty the
                            probability that these laser programs will evolve into viable defense
                            systems.

                            The ABL program has made progress in addressing some technical
                            challenges. However, other challenges remain as do concerns about some
                            Air Force statements of program successes. Specifically, Air Force
                            statements that the flight-weighted laser module3 exceeded power output
                            requirements are questionable because a major component of the module
                            did not meet ABL design specifications. Further, the Air Force states that it
                            met the beam quality requirement for the laser module; however, it has not
                            yet measured the quality of an actual laser beam generated by the module.
                            Instead, during the initial tests, beam quality was estimated using computer
                            models and measurements of the chemical flows within the laser. The
                            complexity of the ABL system indicates that initiating the hot fire flight
                            testing only 4 months prior to the 2003 theater ballistic missile shoot down
                            tests is not adequate. In that regard, the Air Force Scientific Advisory
                            Board stated that, "past experience with high power laser systems and
                            large beam directors suggests that new and difficult problems will surface
                            in that [flight test] phase, and many flights and targets will be needed to


                            3
                                A laser module that is of the size and weight that can be carried by the ABL aircraft.




                            Page 7                                                         GAO/NSIAD-99-50 Defense Acquisitions
                      Executive Summary




                      sort them out." Given these complexities, the Air Force's plan to order a
                      second ABL aircraft, about 1 year before the weapon system developed
                      during the PDRR phase, attempts to demonstrate that the proposed ABL
                      system can shoot down an enemy theater ballistic missile, should be
                      reconsidered.

                      The high level of technical challenges facing the SBL program is
                      exemplified by a statement a senior SBL program official made to GAO that
                      there was a 50-percent chance of being able to build and deploy the SBL
                      concept demonstrator by 2008 (one of the then-current deployment goals).
                      According to this official, the SBL demonstrator would be the most
                      complex spacecraft the United States has ever built. The major reasons for
                      this technical complexity are the weight and size constraints dictated by
                      the limited payload capabilities of current and future launch vehicles.
                      These constraints will force the program to push the state of the art in
                      areas such as laser efficiency, laser power, and deployable optics.

                      A 7-month schedule delay in the THEL program illustrates the technical
                      challenges the program must overcome. Testing against Katyusha rockets
                      at White Sands Missile Range, New Mexico, was to occur in December
                      1998, but has now slipped until July 1999 due to administrative issues
                      associated with contract initiation and technical problems with the laser
                      and tracking system. The initial tests of the laser revealed leaks in the
                      specialized valves that control the flow of chemicals through the laser.
                      These leaks must be corrected because they would detract from the
                      performance of the laser. In addition, testing of the pointer tracker system
                      disclosed a problem with the low-power laser that is to be used in tracking
                      incoming short-range rockets.



Recommendation        Regarding the ABL program, GAO recommends that the Secretary of
                      Defense direct the Secretary of the Air Force to reconsider exercising the
                      option for the second ABL aircraft for the EMD phase of the program until
                      flight testing of the ABL system developed during the PDRR phase has
                      demonstrated that the ABL concept is an achievable, effective combat
                      system.



Agency Comments and   In a draft of this report, GAO recommended that the Secretary of Defense
                      direct the Secretary of the Air Force to provide DOD an assessment of the
GAO’s Evaluation      need to expand the ABL flight test program. In commenting on that draft



                      Page 8                                     GAO/NSIAD-99-50 Defense Acquisitions
Executive Summary




report, DOD partially concurred with GAO’s recommendation and stated
that its ongoing assessment of the ABL program by an Independent
Assessment Team (IAT) would constitute an appropriate assessment of the
flight test program.4

Subsequent to DOD’s comments on GAO’s draft report, DOD completed its
assessment of the ABL program and reported the results to Congress in
March 1999. In its report, DOD noted the IAT’s agreement with Air Force
plans to restructure the ABL program to expand testing and risk reduction
activities before starting modifications to the PDRR aircraft (the first
aircraft). DOD concurred with the IAT’s recommendation for more testing
of the PDRR aircraft before Milestone II, which governs entry into
engineering and manufacturing development. DOD stated that it will
review the Air Force’s proposed restructured program and set a new
Acquisition Program Baseline in the spring of 1999. During the
restructuring and rebaselining effort, DOD stated that, among other things,
it will revise the exit criteria for Milestone II to require more testing against
threat-representative targets.

DOD stated that it expects that adding flight tests to the program before the
start of EMD will increase near-term costs and might delay ABL’s
achievement of an initial operational capability. However, according to
DOD, the added tests will ensure that the expenditures required for ABL’s
EMD phase are justified.

GAO agrees with DOD’s assessment and future plans for the ABL program.
Therefore, GAO deleted from its final report the recommendation for an
assessment of the ABL flight test program.

Based on DOD’s comments on GAO’s draft report that DOD would not
necessarily incur unnecessary costs by proceeding with the purchase of a
second ABL aircraft, GAO revised its recommendation to reflect the need
for DOD to reconsider its planned purchase in light of the IAT’s findings
and GAO’s report.

GAO recognizes that delaying the procurement of the aircraft for the EMD
portion of the program until after the ABL demonstrates it can shoot down
target missiles might require a change in the scheduled initial operational


4
  This assessment was required by the Strom Thurmond National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal
Year 1999.




Page 9                                                  GAO/NSIAD-99-50 Defense Acquisitions
Executive Summary




capability. However, such a slip would ensure that the procurement of the
EMD aircraft would then be based on the additional knowledge gained in
the shoot down demonstrations that the ABL design is feasible. GAO’s
approach is consistent with DOD’s March 1999 report to Congress on the
ABL program wherein it accepted a potential delay in the ABL’s initial
operational capability in favor of obtaining additional data through
increased flight tests. GAO’s approach is also appropriate in view of the
discussion in DOD’s March 1999 report on the impact of turbulence on the
ABL design specification. DOD stated that optical turbulence in excess of
the design specification along the slant path between the ABL and its target
can reduce ABL’s maximum lethal range and increase required dwell times,
even at lesser ranges. It said that some analyses of atmospheric turbulence
data collected in theaters of interest to date suggest that turbulence levels
well above assumed ABL design levels might occur more often than
expected at the time the design levels were set. According to DOD, there
are currently no clear methods for predicting the actual turbulence level
along a slant path to a particular threat location at a given point in time.
Thus, according to DOD, beyond trial and error, it is not clear how a correct
decision can be made on whether a particular target can be successfully
engaged when launched near ABL’s maximum lethal range. The Air Force
is analyzing turbulence data and investigating tactical decision aids for the
system to address this issue.

DOD’s comments are reprinted in appendix I. DOD also provided separate
technical comments that we have incorporated in this report where
appropriate.




Page 10                                     GAO/NSIAD-99-50 Defense Acquisitions
Executive Summary




Page 11             GAO/NSIAD-99-50 Defense Acquisitions
Contents



Executive Summary                                                                                     3


Chapter 1                                                                                            14
                           Objectives, Scope, and Methodology                                        16
Introduction

Chapter 2                                                                                            17
                           Developing Three Defensive Laser Weapons                                  17
DOD Developing Three       Coordination and Technology Sharing                                       21
Laser Weapons and
Coordinating Its
Development Efforts in
Various Ways

Chapter 3                                                                                            23
                           Status and Cost of the ABL Program                                        23
Airborne Laser: Status,    ABL Program Progress                                                      24
Cost, and Technical        Technical Challenges Remain                                               25
                           Planned Ordering of the EMD Aircraft
Challenges                      May Be Premature                                                     29
                           Conclusions                                                               29
                           Recommendation                                                            30
                           Agency Comments and Our Evaluation                                        30


Chapter 4                                                                                            32
                           Status, Cost, and Technical Challenges                                    32
Space-Based Laser:         Conclusions                                                               34
Status, Cost, and
Technical Challenges

Chapter 5                                                                                            35
                           Status and Cost of the THEL Program                                       35
Tactical High Energy       Conclusions                                                               37
Laser: Status, Cost, and
Technical Challenges



                           Page 12                                  GAO/NSIAD-99-50 Defense Acquisitions
             Contents




Appendixes   Appendix I: Comments From the Department of Defense                     40
             Appendix II: Major Contributors to This Report                          44

Tables       Table 1.1: Examples of DOD Laser Development Efforts                    14


Figures      Figure 2.1: ABL Missile Engagement                                      18
             Figure 2.2: Notional SBL Missile Engagement                             19
             Figure 2.3: THEL Rocket Engagement                                      21




             Abbreviations

             ABL           Airborne Laser
             AFRL          Air Force Research Laboratory
             ATP           Authority to Proceed
             BMDO          Ballistic Missile Defense Organization
             DOD           Department of Defense
             EMD           engineering and manufacturing development
             HELSTF        High-Energy Laser Systems Test Facility
             PDRR          program definition and risk reduction
             SBL           Space-Based Laser
             SBLRD         Space-Based Laser Readiness Demonstrator
             SMDC          Space and Missile Defense Command
             THEL          Tactical High-Energy Laser




             Page 13                                GAO/NSIAD-99-50 Defense Acquisitions
Chapter 1

Introduction                                                                                                             Chapte1
                                                                                                                               r




               The Department of Defense (DOD) and Congress have become increasingly
               concerned that U.S. and allied troops abroad may be attacked by chemical,
               biological, or nuclear weapons delivered by ballistic missiles. Operation
               Desert Storm demonstrated that the U.S. military and other allied forces
               have limited capability against theater ballistic missiles. In fact, U.S.
               defensive capability is limited to weapons that defend against missiles
               nearing the end of their flight, such as the Patriot.1 Consequently,
               developing weapon systems to defeat these threats is DOD’s top priority in
               its overall ballistic missile defense program.

               DOD has been working with laser technology for a long time. The
               following table shows some of the laser development efforts that DOD has
               undertaken. To date, none of these efforts has resulted in an operational
               laser weapon system.



               Table 1.1: Examples of DOD Laser Development Efforts

               Development effort                 Purpose                                             Inception date
               Tri-Service Laser Program          Develop carbon dioxide gas
                                                  dynamic laser                                                   1968
               Navy-Advanced Research             Develop high-energy
               Projects Agency Chemical           chemical laser
               Laser Program                                                                                      1971
               Airborne Laser Laboratory          Demonstrate the feasibility
                                                  of using a high-energy laser
                                                  in an airborne environment                                      1972
               Mid-Infrared Advanced              Develop and integrate a
               Chemical Laser                     ground-based high-energy
                                                  chemical laser with a beam
                                                  control system                                                  1977
               Space-Based Laser                  Develop space-based high-
               Program                            energy chemical laser
                                                  weapon system                                                   1977
               Ground-Based Laser (free           Develop high-energy free
               electron)                          electron laser weapon
                                                  system                                                          1979
               Ground-Based Laser                 Develop high-energy
               (Excimer)                          excimer laser weapon
                                                  system                                                          1979



               1
                 The Patriot system was initially deployed in 1985 as an anti-aircraft weapon and modified in the late
               1980s to defend against ballistic missiles as well. It has a range of about 40 miles.




               Page 14                                                     GAO/NSIAD-99-50 Defense Acquisitions
Chapter 1
Introduction




Currently, DOD is developing a variety of weapon systems as part of its
Theater Missile Defense program to counter the potential threats posed by
ballistic missiles. The first generation of these weapon systems uses
interceptor missiles to intercept and destroy enemy missiles in the latter
stages of the missiles' flight. Included among these systems are the Patriot
Advanced Capability-3, an improved version of the Patriot system that was
used during the Gulf War; Navy Area Defense; Medium Extended Air
Defense System; Theater High Altitude Air Defense; and Navy Theater
Wide.

In addition, DOD is developing ballistic missile defense systems that will
use laser beams to destroy enemy missiles. DOD plans to spend billions of
dollars to develop these laser weapons and place them in the air (Airborne
Laser)2 and in space (Space-Based Laser). In addition, DOD is developing a
ground-based laser (Tactical High-Energy Laser) that is to be used to
destroy short-range artillery rockets.

Congress has generally endorsed DOD’s efforts to develop and produce
these laser weapon systems. Its desire to have these systems developed,
produced, and deployed as soon as possible was heightened by a July 1998
report by the Commission to Assess the Ballistic Missile Threat to the
United States.3 The Commission concluded, among other things, that
concerted efforts by a number of overtly or potentially hostile nations to
acquire ballistic missiles with biological or nuclear warheads pose a
growing threat to the United States, its deployed forces, and its friends and
allies.

While endorsing, and in some instances suggesting that DOD’s efforts to
develop laser weapon systems to defeat ballistic missiles be accelerated,
Congress has also expressed concern over the cost and risk associated
with developing and demonstrating the maturity of the technologies
required to develop such missile defense capabilities.




2See Theater Missile Defense: Significant Technical Challenges Face the Airborne Laser Program
(GAO/NSIAD-98-37, Oct. 23, 1997) for a discussion of this program.
3
  The Commission was established pursuant to P.L. 104-201, the National Defense Authorization Act for
Fiscal Year 1997.




Page 15                                                  GAO/NSIAD-99-50 Defense Acquisitions
                         Chapter 1
                         Introduction




Objectives, Scope, and   The Ranking Minority Member, Committee on the Budget, and the Ranking
                         Minority Member, Subcommittee on Military Research and Development,
Methodology              Committee on Armed Services, House of Representatives, asked us to
                         review DOD's programs to develop laser weapons for missile defense to

                         • identify what laser weapons are being considered for missile defense
                           and the coordination among the program offices developing the
                           systems,
                         • determine the current status and cost of each system, and
                         • identify the technical challenges each system faces as determined by
                           DOD program managers and analysts and other laser system experts.

                         To identify the laser weapons being considered for missile defense and
                         what coordination exists among the programs developing the systems, we
                         reviewed DOD budget and Airborne Laser (ABL), Space-Based Laser (SBL),
                         and Tactical High-Energy Laser (THEL) program office documents. We
                         also met with officials of the Office of the Secretary of Defense; the
                         Ballistic Missile Defense Organization, the ABL program office; the Air
                         Force Space and Missile Systems Center; and the Army Space and Missile
                         Defense Command.

                         To determine the current status and cost of each system, we reviewed and
                         analyzed DOD; Air Force; Army; ABL, SBL, and THEL program offices; and
                         contractor documents regarding the status and cost of the DOD laser
                         weapon programs. We discussed the laser programs with officials of the
                         Ballistic Missile Defense Organization; the ABL program office; the Air
                         Force Space and Missile Systems Center; the Army Space and Missile
                         Defense Command; TRW, Inc.; and Lockheed Martin Corporation.

                         To determine the technical challenges each system faces, we reviewed and
                         analyzed documents and studies from DOD; Air Force; Army; ABL, SBL,
                         and THEL program offices; and contractors. We discussed the technical
                         aspects of the laser programs with officials of the Office of the Secretary of
                         Defense (Operational Test and Evaluation); the Ballistic Missile Defense
                         Organization; the Air Force Air Combat Command; the Air Force
                         Operational Test and Evaluation Center; the ABL program office; the Air
                         Force Scientific Advisory Board; the Air Force Space and Missile Systems
                         Center; the Army Space and Missile Defense Command; TRW, Inc.;
                         Lockheed Martin Corporation; and Lawrence Livermore National
                         Laboratory.




                         Page 16                                     GAO/NSIAD-99-50 Defense Acquisitions
Chapter 1
Introduction




We conducted our review from November 1997 to December 1998 in
accordance with generally accepted government auditing standards.




Page 17                                 GAO/NSIAD-99-50 Defense Acquisitions
Chapter 2

DOD Developing Three Laser Weapons and
Coordinating Its Development Efforts in
Various Ways                                                                                                              Chapte2
                                                                                                                                r




                   DOD is developing two laser weapons, ABL and SBL, that are to be used by
                   U.S. forces to destroy enemy ballistic missiles. Additionally, in a joint effort
                   with Israel, DOD is developing the THEL, which is to be used by Israel to
                   defend against short-range rockets.

                   All three programs have benefited from work performed by the Air Force
                   Research Laboratory on lasers and associated systems. In addition, the
                   program directors for these three programs are coordinating their efforts
                   by meeting periodically to discuss and share information on technology
                   and program development issues. Moreover, some of the same contractors
                   and contractor personnel are involved in all three programs, thereby
                   increasing program coordination.



Developing Three   The ABL is to be carried by a 747 aircraft, and the SBL by a constellation of
                   satellites. Both of these weapons are to be used by U.S. forces to destroy
Defensive Laser    ballistic missiles while the missiles are still in the early stage of their flight
Weapons            (boost phase). The THEL is a ground-based laser weapon Israel is to use to
                   defend its northern border cities against Russian-made Katyusha rocket1
                   attacks in the final stages of the rockets' flight.


ABL Program        The ABL, funded and managed by the Air Force, is planned to be the first
                   system with the ability to detect and destroy enemy missiles in their boost
                   phase several hundred kilometers away. It is a complex laser weapon
                   system that is being designed to detect an enemy missile shortly after its
                   launch, track the missile’s path, and hold a concentrated laser beam on the
                   missile until the beam’s heat causes the pressurized missile casing to crack,
                   in turn causing the missile to explode and the warhead to fall to earth well
                   short of its intended target. The program involves placing a multimegawatt
                   laser, beam control system, and related equipment in a Boeing 747-400
                   freighter aircraft. One prototype ABL is to be produced and tested in 2003
                   in attempts to shoot down missiles in their boost phase. If this
                   demonstration is successful, the program is scheduled to move into the
                   engineering and manufacturing development phase in 2004. Figure 2.1
                   shows the ABL concept.




                   1
                     According to THEL program officials, the Katyusha rocket has a range of 8 to 24 kilometers, with a
                   flight time of 20 to 80 seconds. Its boost phase is about 1.5 seconds.




                   Page 17                                                    GAO/NSIAD-99-50 Defense Acquistions
                                     Chapter 2
                                     DOD Developing Three Laser Weapons and
                                     Coordinating Its Development Efforts in
                                     Various Ways




Figure 2.1: ABL Missile Engagement

  Altitude (feet)
                                                                               Booster burnout
      100,000




       80,000
                                                                                    Missile
                                                                                   destroyed
                                                                                                          Destruction

        60,000                                                                   Laser Dwell


                                                                                                          Tracking
                    747




       40,000


                                                                                                          Detection
                                                Cloud Tops

       20,000




             0


                                     The ABL is expected to operate from a central base in the United States and
                                     be available to be deployed worldwide. Ultimately, with a seven-aircraft
                                     fleet, five aircraft are expected to be available for operational duty at any
                                     given time. The other two aircraft are expected to be undergoing
                                     modifications or undergoing maintenance or repair. When the ABLs are
                                     deployed, two aircraft are to fly in figure-eight patterns above the clouds at
                                     about 40,000 feet. Through in-flight refueling and rotation of aircraft, two
                                     ABLs will always be on patrol, thus ensuring 24-hour coverage of potential




                                     Page 18                                          GAO/NSIAD-99-50 Defense Acquistions
                                         Chapter 2
                                         DOD Developing Three Laser Weapons and
                                         Coordinating Its Development Efforts in
                                         Various Ways




                                         missile launch sites within the theater of operations. Each ABL is to be
                                         capable of destroying about 20 missiles before chemicals needed to
                                         generate the laser beam need to be replenished. At that point, the aircraft
                                         will have to land to refuel the laser.


SBL Program                              The SBL, jointly funded by the Ballistic Missile Defense Organization
                                         (BMDO) and the Air Force and managed by the Air Force, is to be capable
                                         of detecting a missile in its boost phase, tracking the missile’s path, and
                                         holding a concentrated laser beam on the missile until the beam’s heat
                                         causes the missile to be destroyed. The SBL program involves integrating a
                                         multimegawatt laser, beam control system, and related equipment on a
                                         space platform and launching it into low earth orbit. Air Force estimates
                                         show that a full SBL system would not be deployed until after 2020.
                                         Figure 2.2 shows a notional SBL engagement.



Figure 2.2: Notional SBL Missile Engagement




                                      Booster Destruct
                                Laser Energy On Booster
                            Identify and Track Target


                      Detect Target




                                                                                                     Target




                                         DOD is developing the SBL to provide a continuous global boost phase
                                         intercept capability for both theater and national missile defense. The



                                         Page 19                                     GAO/NSIAD-99-50 Defense Acquistions
               Chapter 2
               DOD Developing Three Laser Weapons and
               Coordinating Its Development Efforts in
               Various Ways




               notional concept involves having a constellation of 20 to 35 SBLs. Each
               SBL is to be capable of destroying about 100 missiles and is to have a range
               of about 4,300 kilometers.


THEL Program   The THEL, funded jointly with Israel and managed by the U.S. Army, is a
               ground-based laser weapon that is to be used to destroy short-range
               rockets toward the end of their flights. THEL is to accomplish this by
               detecting an incoming rocket shortly after it has been launched, tracking
               the rocket's path, and holding a concentrated laser beam on the rocket's
               warhead until the beam's heat causes the warhead to detonate, destroying
               the rocket. The THEL program involves designing and building a
               multi-hundred kilowatt chemical laser, a beam control system, a fuel supply
               system, a laser exhaust system, and other equipment to fit into separate,
               transportable containers, sized so that each container can be transported
               by a large truck. The transportable containers are to be placed on concrete
               pads at deployment sites. Once deployed, the THEL components in each
               separate container are to be integrated. All THEL components have been
               produced and are scheduled to be integrated and tested at White Sands
               Missile Range, New Mexico, in July 1999. Figure 2.3 shows the THEL
               concept.




               Page 20                                     GAO/NSIAD-99-50 Defense Acquistions
                                     Chapter 2
                                     DOD Developing Three Laser Weapons and
                                     Coordinating Its Development Efforts in
                                     Various Ways




Figure 2.3: THEL Rocket Engagement

                                                                      Track
                                                                               Detect
                                                                      Target
                                                   Beam on Target              Target

                                                Target Kill




                  Defended Zone
                                                              THEL Fire Unit




      THEL Radar Unit


                                     DOD is developing the THEL, in a joint effort with Israel, to be used by
                                     Israel to defend against Russian-made Katyusha rockets and other short-
                                     range rockets that have been used by terrorists to attack cities in northern
                                     Israel. The number of rockets THEL is capable of destroying is limited only
                                     by the amount of laser fuel stored at the deployment site.

                                     Although THEL is a transportable system that can be moved by large
                                     trucks, it is not a mobile system, in the sense that the integrated system
                                     cannot move under its own power. Because of this limitation, the United
                                     States has no use for THEL as it is currently designed. See chapter 5 for
                                     additional discussion of the U.S. need for a mobile THEL-type system.



Coordination and                     The three laser weapon development programs have coordinated their
                                     efforts by holding periodic program director conferences to share
Technology Sharing                   information. In addition, some of the same contractors and contractor
                                     personnel are involved in all three programs and all three programs have



                                     Page 21                                     GAO/NSIAD-99-50 Defense Acquistions
Chapter 2
DOD Developing Three Laser Weapons and
Coordinating Its Development Efforts in
Various Ways




benefited from work performed by the Air Force Research Laboratory on
lasers and associated systems.

According to the program directors of the ABL, SBL, and THEL, they have
conducted periodic conferences and frequent phone conversations to
discuss and share information on technology and program development
issues. They told us that technology developed under one program is
shared where appropriate by all programs, thereby reducing duplication.
For example, weight reduction techniques developed under the SBL
program are to be used on the ABL and THEL programs.

TRW is a subcontractor for the ABL and SBL programs and the prime
contractor for the THEL program and is developing the lasers for all three
programs. ABL program officials told us that some of the same TRW
personnel work on all three programs, thus transferring and sharing their
laser technology knowledge between the programs. In another case, the
same contractor is to produce the deformable mirrors 2 used in the ABL and
SBL programs.

All three programs have benefited from the research carried out by the Air
Force Research Laboratory (AFRL). For example, all programs plan to use
AFRL-developed optical coatings for beam control and laser optical
systems. With these specialized coatings, optics absorb little energy from a
high energy laser beam, and heavy, vibration-inducing cooling systems are
not needed. AFRL officials have also participated in the three programs in
various ways, which enhances information sharing. For example, an AFRL
official participating in the ABL program is also acting as a THEL principal
on-site government representative.




2
  A deformable mirror is a flexible reflective surface mounted to an array of actuators, or pistons, that
can rapidly (up to 1,000 times per second) alter the shape of the mirror. In effect, the mirror's shape is
altered to predistort an outgoing laser beam, which is then refocused by the turbulence through which
the beam travels on its way to the target.




Page 22                                                      GAO/NSIAD-99-50 Defense Acquistions
Chapter 3

Airborne Laser: Status, Cost, and Technical
Challenges                                                                                                                          Chapte3
                                                                                                                                          r




                         The ABL program is currently in the program definition and risk reduction
                         (PDRR) acquisition phase.1 Initial operational capability of three ABLs is
                         scheduled for 2007 and full operational capability of seven ABLs is
                         scheduled for 2009. This schedule reflects a program slip of about 1 year.
                         The Air Force estimates the life-cycle cost of the ABL at about $11 billion.

                         The ABL program has made progress in addressing some technical
                         challenges, such as atmospheric turbulence that we and others have
                         reported on in the past. However, challenges remain because the
                         components of the system are in various stages of development and have
                         yet to be produced in their final configurations, tested, and integrated into
                         an operational weapon system. Because of the complexity of this
                         integration, some laser experts both inside and outside of DOD have noted
                         that the planned flight testing schedule for the program should be
                         expanded. We believe that the technical complexity of the ABL and related
                         integration issues also raises questions about whether the Air Force's
                         planned ordering of a second aircraft, for modification during the
                         engineering and manufacturing development (EMD) phase of the program,
                         is premature.



Status and Cost of the   In November 1996, the Air Force awarded a 77-month PDRR contract to the
                         contractor team of Boeing, TRW, and Lockheed Martin. Under the
ABL Program              contract, Boeing is to produce and modify a 747-400 freighter aircraft and
                         integrate the laser and beam control system with the aircraft; TRW is to
                         develop the laser and ground support systems; and Lockheed Martin is to
                         develop the beam control system. The PDRR phase includes two interim
                         milestones--Authority to Proceed 1 (ATP-1), originally scheduled for June
                         1998, and ATP-2, scheduled for August 2002. The ABL passed ATP-1 in
                         September 1998, 3 months late because the flight-weighted laser module
                         had problems producing the required power level.

                         The PDRR phase is scheduled to culminate with attempts, in 2003, by the
                         PDRR ABL aircraft to destroy a boosting theater ballistic missile. If these
                         demonstrations are successful, the program is scheduled to move into the
                         engineering and manufacturing development phase in 2004. Initial


                         1
                           This phase consists of steps necessary to verify preliminary design and engineering, build prototypes,
                         accomplish necessary planning, and fully analyze trade-off proposals. The objective is to validate the
                         choice of alternatives and to provide the basis for determining whether to proceed into the next phase
                         (engineering and manufacturing development) of the acquisition process.




                         Page 23                                                    GAO/NSIAD-99-50 Defense Acquisitions
                       Chapter 3
                       Airborne Laser: Status, Cost, and Technical
                       Challenges




                       operational capability of three ABLs is scheduled for 2007; full operational
                       capability of seven ABLs is scheduled for 2009. This schedule reflects a
                       1-year slip in the original PDRR schedule. According to the program office,
                       the revision to the schedule is due to a $25-million reduction Congress
                       made in the fiscal year 1999 appropriation for the ABL and to an expanded
                       test program. The Air Force estimates the life-cycle cost of the ABL to be
                       about $11 billion, including $1.6 billion for the PDRR phase, $1.1 billion for
                       the EMD phase, $3.6 billion for the production phase, and $4.6 billion for
                       20 years of operations and support.



ABL Program Progress   We reported on the ABL program in October 1997. At that time, the
                       immediate area of concern that we and others reported was whether the
                       program had adequately assessed the adverse effects of atmospheric
                       turbulence on the ABL's operational effectiveness.2 We reported that the
                       Air Force did not have all of the data needed to fully understand the effect
                       that atmospheric turbulence would have on the operation of the ABL and
                       that the Air Force had not determined whether non-optical turbulence
                       measurements could be correlated to optical turbulence measurements.3
                       We reported that the Air Force had not shown that it could accurately
                       predict the levels of turbulence the ABL will actually encounter; neither
                       had it shown that the ABL's technical requirement regarding turbulence
                       was appropriate. Consequently, we concluded that it was not yet known
                       whether the ABL would be able to operate effectively in its operational
                       environment. In addition, we reported that the Air Force planned to only
                       take additional non-optical turbulence measurements to predict the
                       severity of the optical turbulence the ABL would encounter without first
                       determining whether the two measurement types could be correlated.

                       The Air Force has now completed collecting non-optical atmospheric
                       turbulence data from the Korean and Middle East theaters. In commenting
                       on a draft of this report, DOD stated that, while the Air Force's analyses of

                       2The type of turbulence that the ABL will encounter is referred to as optical turbulence. It is caused by
                       temperature variations in the atmosphere. These variations distort and reduce the intensity of the laser
                       beam. Unless these turbulence effects are compensated for, they decrease the laser beam's effective
                       range.
                       3
                         Optical turbulence measurements are taken by instruments that directly measure distortions in light
                       that has traveled from a point source through the atmosphere to the measuring instrument. This can be
                       accomplished by transmitting laser beams from one aircraft to instruments on-board another aircraft at
                       various altitudes and distances, or by focusing on a point source of light, such as a star. Non-optical
                       turbulence measurements are taken by radar or by temperature probes mounted on balloons or on an
                       aircraft's exterior.




                       Page 24                                                     GAO/NSIAD-99-50 Defense Acquisitions
                        Chapter 3
                        Airborne Laser: Status, Cost, and Technical
                        Challenges




                        these data argue that the design specification established for atmospheric
                        turbulence is generally accurate, the DOD has yet to reach a final position
                        on this issue. DOD stated further that it is still examining the design
                        specification for atmospheric turbulence. According to DOD, the Air Force
                        plans to collect and characterize additional data to further validate its
                        design assumptions. DOD also stated that uncertainties remain concerning
                        the ability to use non-optical turbulence measurements under all
                        conditions to predict operational performance for the ABL. It said that it
                        was considering what additional measurements and analysis are needed to
                        resolve these uncertainties.

                        The Air Force has also been able to establish that the correlation between
                        non-optical and optical data is adequate for the purposes of estimating ABL
                        performance using non-optical data at this stage of the program. However,
                        according to DOD officials, there are instances where optical and non-
                        optical data disagree and the causes of these differences are not
                        understood. Consequently, the Air Force is continuing to collect and
                        analyze data to further validate its turbulence design assumptions.



Technical Challenges    While the ABL program has made progress in addressing technical
                        challenges relating to atmospheric turbulence, other challenges remain.
Remain                  Developing a laser module that is of the size and weight that can be carried
                        by the ABL aircraft (referred to as a flight-weighted laser module), and
                        integrating the laser, beam control system, and related equipment into an
                        aircraft, are two examples of these challenges.


Flight-Weighted Laser   The technical challenge inherent in the ABL program is exemplified by
Module Challenges       problems experienced in developing the high-energy laser. The Air Force
                        must build the laser to be able to contend with size and weight restrictions,
                        motion and vibrations, and other factors unique to an aircraft environment,
                        yet be powerful enough to sustain a killing force over a range of hundreds
                        of kilometers. It is also to be constructed in a configuration that links
                        modules together to produce a single high-energy beam. The laser being
                        developed for the PDRR phase will have six modules. The laser for the
                        EMD phase will have 14 modules. When we issued our report on the ABL
                        in 1997, the program had constructed and tested a developmental laser
                        module. Although that developmental module exceeded its energy output
                        requirements, it was too heavy and large to meet integration requirements.
                        It would have to be reduced in width by about one-third and reduced in
                        weight by over one-half. To accomplish this, many components of the


                        Page 25                                       GAO/NSIAD-99-50 Defense Acquisitions
Chapter 3
Airborne Laser: Status, Cost, and Technical
Challenges




module would have to be reconfigured and built of advanced materials,
such as composites.

As previously discussed, the PDRR phase of the ABL program includes two
milestone decision points--referred to as ATP-1 and ATP-2. To pass ATP-1,
the Air Force had to "demonstrate a single laser module at full power with
all critical components flight-weighted and show performance (power,
beam quality, chemical efficiency, thermal management) is scaleable/
traceable to the EMD design through analysis." During testing of the
flight-weighted laser module in connection with the scheduled June 1998
ATP-1 decision point, the module failed to meet its power output
requirement. Because of this failure, the program provisionally passed
ATP-1.

The program fully passed ATP-1 when, 3 months later, the laser module
exceeded its power output requirement by 10 percent. However, the power
output was achieved using a flight-weighted laser module that was not
representative of the laser modules that will be used in an operational ABL
weapon system. Specifically, the flight-weighted laser module used for
testing in connection with ATP-1 used a stable resonator. ABL design
specifications require that an unstable resonator be used. 4 According to
program officials, an unstable resonator is needed because it would
produce a laser beam that would allow the ABL's beam control system to
focus more of the beam's power on the target than would be possible with a
beam produced by a stable resonator. In commenting on a draft of this
report, DOD stated that a stable, versus unstable, resonator was used for
the initial flight-weighted laser module tests because the test facility had a
stable resonator in place, and to replace the stable resonator with an
unstable resonator would have been too costly and would have adversely
affected the program schedule.

In addition to demonstrating the laser module at full power, ATP-1 also
required the program to demonstrate that the beam quality of the laser


4
  A resonator consists of two mirrors placed at opposite ends of a laser cavity. As the reaction of
chemicals within the laser cavity produces photons of light, the photons are reflected back and forth
between the two mirrors, which causes additional photons to be generated, resulting in a state of high
energy within the cavity. In a stable resonator, one mirror is fully reflective while the other is only
partially reflective, allowing part of the energy to escape from the laser cavity in the form of a
high-energy laser beam. In an unstable resonator, both mirrors are fully reflective but one is much
smaller in diameter. As the photons are reflected from the larger mirror in the direction of the smaller
mirror, energy escapes from the laser cavity by passing around the edges of the smaller mirror in the
form of a high-energy laser beam.




Page 26                                                    GAO/NSIAD-99-50 Defense Acquisitions
                                Chapter 3
                                Airborne Laser: Status, Cost, and Technical
                                Challenges




                                beam generated by the module would meet ABL design requirements. In
                                meeting this requirement, the Air Force did not measure the quality of an
                                actual laser beam generated by the module. Instead, it estimated the beam
                                quality using computer models and measurements of the chemical flows
                                within the laser. In future tests of the laser module, the Air Force plans to
                                measure the beam quality of an actual beam generated by the laser module.

                                In attempting to demonstrate the laser module at full power, the Air Force
                                identified several design problems. For example, the catch tank and catch
                                tank outlet, which collect and recirculate a chemical used by the laser,
                                were too small. This limited the flow rate of the chemical, reducing the
                                laser's power. Another problem identified was that too much water vapor
                                entered the laser cavity, which reduced the amount of power generated. In
                                addition, gas pressure within the laser cavity was too high, thus slowing the
                                velocity of gases through the cavity, which also reduced the amount of
                                power generated.

                                Some modifications were made to achieve higher power levels during
                                testing. These and other modifications are currently being finalized and
                                incorporated into the flight-weighted laser module.


System Integration Challenges   The ABL program manager stated that integrating a weapon-level laser,
                                beam control system, and the other related components into an aircraft is
                                the largest challenge facing the program. Some individual components of
                                the ABL have been tested under laboratory conditions and the program
                                office has conducted modeling and computer simulations. However, the
                                individual components have not been integrated and tested as a complete
                                weapon system. As we stated in our October 1997 report, until this system
                                integration and testing is accomplished, it is not possible to predict with
                                any degree of certainty the probability that the ABL program will evolve
                                into a viable missile defense system.

                                A major aspect of this system integration testing will be the hot fire flight
                                tests when the laser is turned on and the beam is controlled by the beam
                                control system. According to planning documents, hot fire flight testing
                                begins only 4 months prior to the 2003 theater ballistic missile shoot-down
                                tests. Because of the complexity of the system integration task, some
                                experts both inside and outside of DOD have noted that the planned flight
                                testing schedule for the program is too dependent on successful tests and
                                does not allow enough time and resources to deal with potential test
                                failures and to prove the ABL concept.



                                Page 27                                       GAO/NSIAD-99-50 Defense Acquisitions
Chapter 3
Airborne Laser: Status, Cost, and Technical
Challenges




In a May 1998 Early Operational Assessment, the Air Force Operational
Test and Evaluation Center characterized the flight test schedule as
"compressed and success-oriented." In addition, the Air Force Scientific
Advisory Board, in its February 1998 report, "Airborne Laser Scenarios and
Concept of Operations," stated that while the ABL program evolution as
currently planned is rational in its sequencing of tests, the schedule
appears to have an unrealistically brief flight testing phase. The Board
characterized the flight test program as "immature" and said that it needs to
be structured to build high confidence in the operability of the laser
system. It further stated that past experience with high-power laser
systems and large beam directors suggests that new and difficult problems
will surface in that phase, and that many flights and targets will be needed
to sort them out. The Board suggested that the laser should be fired a
reasonably large number of times (in the hundreds) with the ABL in flight
before committing to a lethality demonstration and that this would serve to
gain experience; establish that it is safe, reliable, and routine; and measure
the critical parameters that will give a commander the confidence to use
the system without hesitation. Consequently, the Board advised the Air
Force to develop contingency plans to prepare for the possibility that the
current success-oriented schedule is not achieved, to include ordering
additional long lead targets if required, the identification of potential
avenues of failure during the flight tests, and preparation of work-arounds
or corrective steps prepared in advance.

Congress has also raised concerns related to this issue. The conference
report on the Strom Thurmond National Defense Authorization Act for
Fiscal Year 1999 noted that the conferees are concerned that the Air Force
plans to enter EMD without adequate time to operate, test, and evaluate the
PDRR configuration. As a result, the conferees directed the Secretary of
Defense to establish an independent review team to assist with the
Secretary’s evaluation of the technical risk in the ABL program and his
determination of whether (1) additional testing and risk reduction is
necessary prior to integration of the ABL subsystems into a commercial
747-400F aircraft and (2) the fully integrated PDRR aircraft should be
operated for a period of time and thoroughly tested prior to finalizing an
objective design. The act directed the Secretary of Defense to report the
findings of his assessment of the ABL program by March 15, 1999.




Page 28                                       GAO/NSIAD-99-50 Defense Acquisitions
                      Chapter 3
                      Airborne Laser: Status, Cost, and Technical
                      Challenges




Planned Ordering of   The technical complexity of the ABL and related integration issues raise
                      questions about when a second aircraft, for modification during the EMD
the EMD Aircraft      phase, should be ordered. Current program plans call for an aircraft to be
May Be Premature      ordered about 1 year before the planned attempts to shoot down a theater
                      missile with the PDRR aircraft.

                      The Air Force has a contract with Boeing for the aircraft that will be used
                      during the PDRR phase. According to ABL acquisition plans, a second
                      747-400 freighter will be ordered in September 2002 for the EMD phase.5
                      The ordering of the aircraft is to immediately follow the August 2002 ATP-2
                      meeting. However, this acquisition strategy will result in the second
                      aircraft being ordered about 1 year prior to the scheduled demonstration of
                      the ABL's ability to shoot down a theater ballistic missile.



Conclusions           The ABL program has made progress in addressing some technical
                      challenges, such as atmospheric turbulence, that we and others have
                      reported on in the past. However, challenges will continue through the
                      development program and we have concerns about some Air Force
                      statements of program successes--specifically, statements related to the
                      power output and beam quality of the flight-weighted laser module. Once
                      these and other problems are resolved, the major program challenge will be
                      to integrate the individual system components into a complete weapon
                      system for testing. A major test for the program will be the flight tests
                      during which the laser is turned on and its beam is controlled by the beam
                      control system. Independent reviews of the ABL program by laser experts
                      indicate that the ABL flight test plan may be too limited and too dependent
                      on successful tests, and not allow enough time and resources to deal with
                      potential test failures and to prove the ABL concept.

                      The technical complexity of the ABL and related integration issues also
                      raise questions about when a second aircraft, for modification during the
                      EMD phase of the program, should be ordered. Current plans call for the
                      EMD aircraft to be ordered about 1 year before the PDRR aircraft attempts
                      to shoot down theater ballistic missiles. If the PDRR aircraft fails to prove
                      the ABL concept, the funds expended for the EMD aircraft may be wasted.

                      5
                        ABL acquisition plans call for a total of seven aircraft. One ABL is to be produced during the PDRR
                      phase, a second during the EMD phase, and five more are to be developed during the production phase.
                      Also, during the production phase, the aircraft from the PDRR and EMD phases are to be refurbished to
                      production standards.




                      Page 29                                                  GAO/NSIAD-99-50 Defense Acquisitions
                      Chapter 3
                      Airborne Laser: Status, Cost, and Technical
                      Challenges




Recommendation        Regarding the ABL program, we recommend that the Secretary of Defense
                      direct the Secretary of the Air Force to reconsider plans to exercise the
                      option for the second ABL aircraft for the EMD phase of the program
                      before flight testing of the ABL system developed during the PDRR phase
                      has demonstrated that the ABL concept is an achievable, effective combat
                      system.



Agency Comments and   In a draft of this report, we recommended that the Secretary of Defense
                      direct the Secretary of the Air Force to provide DOD an assessment of the
Our Evaluation        need to expand the ABL flight test program. In commenting on that draft
                      report, DOD partially concurred with our recommendation and stated that
                      its ongoing assessment of the ABL program by an Independent Assessment
                      Team (IAT) would constitute an appropriate assessment of the flight test
                      program.6

                      Subsequent to DOD’s comments on our draft report, DOD completed its
                      assessment of the ABL program and reported the results to Congress in
                      March 1999. In its report, DOD noted the IAT’s agreement with Air Force
                      plans to restructure the ABL program to expand testing and risk reduction
                      activities before starting modifications to the PDRR aircraft (the first
                      aircraft). DOD concurred with the IAT’s recommendation for more testing
                      of the PDRR aircraft before Milestone II, which governs entry into
                      engineering and manufacturing development. DOD stated that it will
                      review the Air Force’s proposed restructured program and set a new
                      Acquisition Program Baseline in the spring of 1999. During the
                      restructuring and rebaselining effort, DOD stated that, among other things,
                      it will revise the exit criteria for Milestone II to require more testing against
                      threat-representative targets.

                      DOD stated that it expects that adding flight tests to the program before the
                      start of EMD will increase near-term costs and might delay ABL’s
                      achievement of an initial operational capability. However, according to
                      DOD, the added tests will ensure that the expenditures required for ABL’s
                      EMD phase are justified.




                      6
                        This assessment was required by the Strom Thurmond National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal
                      Year 1999.




                      Page 30                                                 GAO/NSIAD-99-50 Defense Acquisitions
Chapter 3
Airborne Laser: Status, Cost, and Technical
Challenges




We agree with DOD’s assessment and future plans for the ABL program.
Therefore, we deleted from our final report the recommendation for an
assessment of the ABL flight test program.

Based on DOD’s comments on our draft report that DOD would not
necessarily incur unnecessary costs by proceeding with the purchase of a
second ABL aircraft, we revised our recommendation to reflect the need
for DOD to reconsider its planned purchase in light of the IAT’s findings
and our report.

We recognize that delaying the procurement of the aircraft for the EMD
portion of the program until after the ABL demonstrates it can shoot down
target missiles might require a change in the scheduled initial operational
capability. However, such a slip would ensure that the procurement of the
EMD aircraft would then be based on the additional knowledge gained in
the shoot down demonstrations that the ABL design is feasible. Our
recommended approach is consistent with DOD’s March 1999 report to
Congress on the ABL program wherein it accepted a potential delay in the
ABL’s initial operational capability in favor of obtaining additional data
through increased flight tests. Our approach is also appropriate in view of
the discussion in DOD’s March 1999 report on the impact of turbulence on
the ABL design specification. DOD stated that optical turbulence in excess
of the design specification along the slant path between the ABL and its
target can reduce ABL’s maximum lethal range and increase required dwell
times, even at lesser ranges. It said that some analyses of atmospheric
turbulence data collected in theaters of interest to date suggest that
turbulence levels well above assumed ABL design levels might occur more
often than expected at the time the design levels were set. According to
DOD, there are currently no clear methods for predicting the actual
turbulence level along a slant path to a particular threat location at a given
point in time. Thus, according to DOD, beyond trial and error, it is not clear
how a correct decision can be made on whether a particular target can be
successfully engaged when launched near ABL’s maximum lethal range.
The Air Force is analyzing turbulence data and investigating tactical
decision aids for the system to address this issue.




Page 31                                       GAO/NSIAD-99-50 Defense Acquisitions
Chapter 4

Space-Based Laser: Status, Cost, and
Technical Challenges                                                                                   Chapte4
                                                                                                             r




                       The SBL program is about a year into a $30-million study phase to define
                       concepts for the design, development, and deployment of an SBL proof of
                       concept demonstrator. According to the program office, the SBL
                       demonstrator would be the most technically complex spacecraft the United
                       States has ever built. DOD is currently considering an acquisition strategy
                       under which the demonstrator spacecraft would be launched in the 2010 to
                       2012 time frame. Congress, however, has directed that the demonstrator be
                       launched in the 2006 to 2008 time frame.



Status, Cost, and      According to a senior SBL program official, the SBL readiness
                       demonstrator will be the most complex spacecraft the United States has
Technical Challenges   ever built. He also said that there is only a 50-percent chance that it will be
                       built and deployed by 2008. According to SBL program officials, the weight
                       and size constraints dictated by the size and weight limitations of existing
                       and planned launch vehicles force the program to push the state of the art
                       in areas such as laser efficiency, laser brightness, and deployable optics.
                       DOD's programmed funding for SBL from fiscal year 1998 to 2005 totals
                       $1.1 billion. DOD officials told us that the design, development, and
                       deployment of an SBL readiness demonstrator would cost about $3 billion.

                       The conference report for the fiscal year 1998 National Defense
                       Authorization Act states that the Secretary of Defense, in an August 1997
                       letter to the Senate Majority Leader, confirmed that SBL technology had
                       reached a level of maturity that could lead to a future space demonstration
                       of a sub-scale vehicle. Consequently, the conferees directed the Air Force
                       to promptly establish a baseline for a Space-Based Laser Readiness
                       Demonstrator (SBLRD) to include a set of technical objectives and
                       requirements, a contracting strategy, a system design, a program schedule,
                       and a funding profile that would support a launch in fiscal year 2005.
                       Further, to ensure the focus of the program remains on a fiscal year 2005
                       (this deployment date was later changed to the 2006-2008 time frame)
                       launch, the conferees directed that they be consulted prior to planned
                       variances from this launch date. In addition, the conferees directed the
                       Secretary of Defense to report on the status of the SBL readiness
                       demonstrator baseline and related issues to the congressional defense
                       committees by March 1, 1998. To date, DOD has not submitted its SBL
                       baseline report to Congress.

                       In February 1998, the Air Force awarded two 6-month concept definition
                       study contracts, valued at $10 million each, to Lockheed Martin and TRW




                       Page 32                                      GAO/NSIAD-99-50 Defense Acquisitions
Chapter 4
Space-Based Laser: Status, Cost, and
Technical Challenges




as an initial step to develop SBLRD. The contractors were tasked to
evaluate three strategies:

• a 2005/2006 launch of the SBLRD with existing technology,
• a 2008 launch with existing technology, and
• a 2008 launch infusing advanced technology.

In early 1998, the Air Force's acquisition strategy was to use evaluation
data from these two efforts, along with other appropriate data, to award a
contract in August 1998 to develop the SBLRD. The objectives of the
demonstration would be to validate the SBL as a viable option for missile
defense by demonstrating SBL technology readiness and to obtain
performance and operations data regarding high-power space lasers,
long-range precision pointing, adjunct missions feasibility, and to explore
battle management issues.

When the initial acquisition strategy was provided to the Under Secretary
of Defense for Acquisition and Technology in August 1998, the Under
Secretary was concerned that the strategy focused only on the
demonstrator and wanted to know whether the long-term program to
develop and deploy the SBL would be affordable. Consequently, he
directed the BMDO and the Air Force to restructure and expand the scope
of the readiness demonstrator acquisition strategy to include the complete
development and deployment of an SBL system. The restructuring was
also to include review and assessment of other missile defense concepts
such as ground-based lasers and space-based relay mirrors. In addition, the
Under Secretary directed them to look for opportunities to develop
technologies that would increase the affordability of the SBL by
collaborating with other agencies such as the National Aeronautics and
Space Administration, which is currently developing deployable optics for
its next generation space telescope. In implementing this direction, BMDO
and the Air Force restructured the acquisition strategy and extended the
concept definition study contracts at a cost of $5 million each. In February
1999, BMDO and the Air Force announced the award of a contract for a
joint venture among Boeing, Lockheed Martin, and TRW for $125 million
for initiating the Space-Based Laser Integrated Flight Experiment effort
that is to result in deploying the readiness demonstrator in the 2010 to 2012
time frame. According to BMDO officials, a full SBL system would not be
deployed until after 2020.

The restructured strategy has not received final approval by DOD and is not
consistent with Congress' direction to launch the SBL readiness



Page 33                                     GAO/NSIAD-99-50 Defense Acquisitions
              Chapter 4
              Space-Based Laser: Status, Cost, and
              Technical Challenges




              demonstrator in the 2006 to 2008 time frame. In the conference report for
              the fiscal year 1999 DOD Authorization Act, the conferees expressed
              concern over the lack of progress in awarding a contract for the readiness
              demonstrator and directed the Secretary of Defense to promptly release
              the request for proposals for the SBL readiness demonstrator. At the time
              of our review, BMDO officials did not know when or if the proposed
              restructured acquisition strategy will be approved and ultimately submitted
              to Congress



Conclusions   The future of the SBL program is unknown at this time. DOD is currently
              doing a comprehensive assessment of the program. That assessment will
              include alternative ballistic missile defense concepts, such as ground-based
              lasers and space-based relay mirrors. If, based on this assessment, the SBL
              is ultimately selected, DOD estimates that a fully operational system would
              not be deployed until after 2020. Accelerating the deployment date would
              require the maturation of some complex technologies such as deployable
              optics and would require a large, but yet unknown, infusion of funds into
              the program.




              Page 34                                    GAO/NSIAD-99-50 Defense Acquisitions
Chapter 5

Tactical High Energy Laser: Status, Cost, and
Technical Challenges                                                                                    Chapte5
                                                                                                              r




                         The THEL is about 34 months into its $131.5 million 38-month development
                         program. All of its components--such as the laser, the pointer tracker, and
                         the pressure recovery system--have been built and are currently being
                         tested. The system was scheduled to be integrated, tested, and ready to
                         begin shoot-down tests against short-range rockets at White Sands Missile
                         Range by December 1998. However, the shoot-down testing has been
                         delayed 7 months due to administrative issues and technical problems with
                         the laser and the pointer tracker.

                         Although THEL's components have been produced, the technical
                         challenges relating to testing and integration remain to be overcome.
                         Initial testing of the laser has identified a problem with the chemical flow
                         control valves. In addition, tests of the pointer tracker have identified
                         problems with the low-power laser that is to track short-range rockets.
                         Furthermore, integration and related testing have yet to begin.



Status and Cost of the   In May 1995, a predecessor program to THEL, Nautilus, was started.
                         Nautilus was a joint U.S.-Israel program to evaluate the effectiveness of
THEL Program             lasers for potential use as a tactical air defense system against short-range
                         rockets in a variety of missions, including peace-keeping operations. The
                         U.S. Army Space and Missile Defense Command (SMDC), then called the
                         Space and Strategic Defense Command, provided primary management
                         functions for the program. The Israel Ministry of Defense provided support
                         to SMDC. In February 1996, the Nautilus program culminated in a
                         successful test at the Army's High Energy Laser Systems Test Facility
                         (HELSTF) at White Sands Missile Range, New Mexico, using the Mid-
                         Infrared Advanced Chemical Laser and Sea Lite Beam Director to engage
                         and destroy a short-range Katyusha rocket.

                         In April 1996, President Clinton met with Israel's then Prime Minister
                         Shimon Peres. At the meeting, the United States made a commitment to
                         assist Israel to develop a Tactical High Energy Laser Advanced Concept
                         Technology Demonstrator. This commitment, based on the success of the
                         Nautilus program, was designed to help Israel defend its northern cities
                         from the threat posed by Katyusha and other short-range rockets.

                         In May 1996, TRW was awarded a contract for $89 million to design,
                         fabricate, and test a tactical-sized deuterium fluoride chemical laser
                         capable of defeating short-range artillery rockets. The original contract
                         called for about a 22-month effort to design and build the system by March
                         1998. Israel contributed $24.7 million toward the contract cost and



                         Page 35                                     GAO/NSIAD-99-50 Defense Acquisitions
                              Chapter 5
                              Tactical High Energy Laser: Status, Cost, and
                              Technical Challenges




                              developed components such as the fire control radar system, laser fluid
                              supply system, and pressure recovery system (laser exhaust system). In
                              January 1998, the contract was modified to increase its value by
                              $42.5 million to $131.5 million (increasing the U. S. contribution to
                              $106.8 million) and to extend the completion date by 11 months to
                              February 1999 for integration and rocket shoot-down testing at HELSTF.
                              This testing was scheduled to begin in December 1998. However, testing of
                              the laser and the pointer tracker has revealed problems that have, along
                              with administrative issues associated with contract initiation, caused the
                              schedule to be delayed by 7 months, to July 1999.


Technical Challenges Facing   THEL's components have been produced. However, initial testing of the
the THEL Program              laser has identified problems with the operation of chemical flow control
                              valves and with the low-power laser that is to be used in tracking the
                              short-range rockets.

                              The initial tests of the laser revealed leaks in the specialized valves that
                              control the flow of chemicals through the laser. These leaks must be
                              corrected because they would detract from the performance of the laser.
                              In addition, testing of the pointer tracker system disclosed a problem with
                              the low-power laser that is to be used in tracking incoming short-range
                              rockets. This laser is a commercial off-the-shelf item that is generally used
                              in laboratory settings. It has been modified for use on the THEL; however,
                              it is still undergoing tests to ensure it meets performance requirements.

                              The valve leaks and the problems with the low-power laser in the pointer
                              tracker system have caused a delay in the THEL test schedule. Originally,
                              the THEL system was scheduled to be a fully integrated system that would
                              attempt to shoot-down a Katyusha rocket at HELSTF in December 1998.
                              Because of these unanticipated problems and administrative issues, the
                              schedule has slipped by 7 months, to July 1999.




                              Page 36                                         GAO/NSIAD-99-50 Defense Acquisitions
                           Chapter 5
                           Tactical High Energy Laser: Status, Cost, and
                           Technical Challenges




A U.S. Requirement for     Currently, U.S. forces do not have a validated mission requirement for the
THEL-Type System           THEL as it is being designed for Israel.1 However, the Army has prepared a
                           draft mission needs statement for a reconfigured mobile laser weapon that
Would Present Additional
                           could be used by U.S. forces to shoot down a variety of targets in theater
Technical Challenges       environments. A THEL official told us that the draft Army mission needs
                           statement is being incorporated into Atlantic Command's Joint Theater and
                           Missile Defense mission needs statement, which includes the need for a
                           mobile high-energy laser weapon.

                           The THEL would have to be radically modified for it to be more powerful
                           and mobile and thus meet emerging U.S. theater defense requirements for a
                           ground-based laser. While the THEL system being developed for Israel is
                           designed to be transportable, it will not be mobile; THEL components must
                           be transported by large trucks and placed on prepared concrete sites.
                           According to laser experts at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, a
                           mobile, ground-based high-energy laser weapon for U.S. use would
                           probably necessitate using a relatively small solid-state laser (versus the
                           much larger and heavier chemical laser being developed for the THEL), the
                           technology for which is relatively immature. The experts said that a
                           generation of solid-state laser research and development would be needed
                           to develop technology to the level necessary for use in a mobile THEL-type
                           system. A program official said that such a system would probably not be
                           fielded until at least 2025. In commenting on a draft of this report, DOD
                           stated that the Army is investigating four solid-state laser concepts and the
                           availability dates and concepts may be different than the assessment
                           provided by Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory officials.



Conclusions                Of the three laser weapon systems that DOD is developing for use against
                           theater ballistic missiles or short-range artillery rockets, the THEL is
                           closest to becoming a fielded system. It is being developed in a relatively
                           short time frame at a relatively low cost. Because THEL is a follow-on to
                           an earlier laser weapon program, its successful development and fielding
                           have been considered relatively low risk. However, technical problems and
                           their associated program delays demonstrate the complex nature of
                           developing laser weapons of this type. Lessons learned from the THEL


                           1
                             The Navy has expressed interest in a THEL-type system for shipboard defenses, but does not have any
                           major efforts planned in this area yet. In addition, the Commander in Chief, Korea, is looking at a
                           THEL-type system for a counter-artillery role. Specifically, he is interested in using a laser weapon to
                           help protect major assets in or near Seoul from enemy rocket attacks.




                           Page 37                                                    GAO/NSIAD-99-50 Defense Acquisitions
Chapter 5
Tactical High Energy Laser: Status, Cost, and
Technical Challenges




program will be beneficial if the United States decides to develop a THEL-
type system for its military forces. However, given the more demanding
requirements that the U.S. will likely have, eventual success of the THEL
program will not easily translate into a low-risk, problem-free U.S.
program.




Page 38                                         GAO/NSIAD-99-50 Defense Acquisitions
Chapter 5
Tactical High Energy Laser: Status, Cost, and
Technical Challenges




Page 39                                         GAO/NSIAD-99-50 Defense Acquisitions
Appendix I

Comments From the Department of Defense                         AppIexndi




See comment 1.




See comment 2.

See comment 3.

See comment 4.

See cimment 5.




                 Page 40     GAO/NSIAD-99-50 Defense Acquisitions
                 Appendix I
                 Comments From the Department of Defense




See comment 1.




See comment 1.




Now on
pp. 8 and 30.




See comment 6.




                 Page 41                                   GAO/NSIAD-99-50 Defense Acquisitions
               Appendix I
               Comments From the Department of Defense




               The following are GAO’s comments on the Department of Defense’s (DOD)
               letter dated February 19, 1999.



GAO Comments   1. The Secretary of Defense submitted his report on the Airborne Laser
               (ABL) program to Congress in March 1999, subsequent to DOD providing
               comments on a draft of this report. The Secretary reported that the ABL
               flight-test program will be expanded. Since this action is consistent with
               the recommendation in our draft report, we have deleted the
               recommendation from the final report.

               2. We agree that operational testing for the ABL program will not begin
               until the engineering and manufacturing development (EMD) phase and
               have modified the text by deleting the word operational. However, we
               retained the term combat system because it refers to the ABL concept and
               not to the program definition and risk reduction (PDRR) aircraft.

               3. We have modified the report to clarify that the Space-Based Laser (SBL)
               is a demonstration program.

               4. We have modified the report title and text to clarify that the Tactical
               High-Energy Laser (THEL) is not a theater ballistic missile defense system.

               5. We have modified the text of the report to reflect that DOD has not yet
               reached a final position on the issue of atmospheric turbulence.

               6. We did not assess the marketability of the 747 freighter aircraft by the
               Air Force if it decides to terminate or delay the ABL program. However, if
               after ordering the aircraft DOD decides to terminate the program, it would
               be liable for up to $50 million unless it can successfully sell its place in the
               production queue or sell the aircraft. DOD did not include in its comments
               an estimate to store the aircraft if the ABL program is delayed.




               Page 42                                      GAO/NSIAD-99-50 Defense Acquisitions
Appendix I
Comments From the Department of Defense




Page 43                                   GAO/NSIAD-99-50 Defense Acquisitions
Appendix II

Major Contributors to This Report                                             ApIpexndi




National Security and   Steven F. Kuhta

International Affairs
Division, Washington,
D.C.

Boston Field Office     Subrata Ghoshroy



Denver Field Office     Ted B. Baird
                        Rich Horiuchi




(707317)                Page 44            GAO/NSIAD-99-50 Defense Acquisitions
Ordering Information

The first copy of each GAO report and testimony is free.
Additional copies are $2 each. Orders should be sent to the
following address, accompanied by a check or money order made
out to the Superintendent of Documents, when necessary, VISA and
MasterCard credit cards are accepted, also.

Orders for 100 or more copies to be mailed to a single address are
discounted 25 percent.

Orders by mail:

U.S. General Accounting Office
P.O. Box 37050
Washington, DC 20013

or visit:

Room 1100
700 4th St. NW (corner of 4th and G Sts. NW)
U.S. General Accounting Office
Washington, DC

Orders may also be placed by calling (202) 512-6000
or by using fax number (202) 512-6061, or TDD (202) 512-2537.

Each day, GAO issues a list of newly available reports and
testimony. To receive facsimile copies of the daily list or any list
from the past 30 days, please call (202) 512-6000 using a touchtone
phone. A recorded menu will provide information on how to obtain
these lists.

For information on how to access GAO reports on the INTERNET,
send an e-mail message with “info” in the body to:

info@www.gao.gov

or visit GAO’s World Wide Web Home Page at:

http://www.gao.gov
United States                       Bulk Rate
General Accounting Office      Postage & Fees Paid
Washington, D.C. 20548-0001           GAO
                                 Permit No. GI00
Official Business
Penalty for Private Use $300

Address Correction Requested