Importance and Prevalence of Embedded Computer Systems and Oversight of This Technology by the Office of the Secretary of Defense

Published by the Government Accountability Office on 1990-04-26.

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

                       United States General Accounting Office   m.?~~

    For Release        Importance   and Prevalence   of Embedded Computer
    on Delivery
    Expected at        Systems and Oversight     of This Technology
    1:30 p.m. EDT      by the Office   of the Secretary   of Defense
    April  26, 1990

                       Statement of
                       Ralph V. Carlone,
                       Assistant   Comptroller General,
                       Information   Management and Technology           Division
                       Before the
                       Subcommittee on Legislation  and National
                       Committee on Government Operations
                       House of Representatives

    GAO/T-IMTEC-90-8                 /                                   GAO Fom 160 (12/W

                                    ..i,                                         .’
Mr.     Chairman           and Members of the Subcommittee:

I am pleased              to participate                 in these         hearings            on the       SSN-21 and its
computer-based               AN/.BYS-2 combat                 system.          As you know,               we recently
reported          on several           areas         of risk       with       AN/BSY-2 which                require           the
Navy's       focused         management              attention.1              These areas               include         (1)
developing           and integrating                  a massive           amount of software,                     most of
which      is planned              to be written              in a relatively                  new computer
language          (Ada)      for     which         there      is a shortage                of experienced
programmers:               (2)
                            ensuring    that                  sufficient            time       exists       for      the
government           to witness    software                   testing         and resolve               identified
problems:           (3) designing                 a system       with      sufficient            reliability               to
ensure       that        mission      needs are met;                   (4) developing,               refining,             and
testing          a model to accurately                      predict        system         performance:               and (5)
ensuring          that      independent             verification              and validation                assessments
are performed               on the         software         development             effort.

The ability              of this      weapons system                   to meet its            mission         requirements
clearly          hinges      on.the         success         or failure          of this          embedded computer
system.           Nevertheless,              it     is     important          not    to lose         sight        of.the
fact      that      AN/BSY-2         is but         one,      albeit       one of the most costly                          and
important,           of many computer                    systems        on the       submarine.              These
systems          perform         various          functions        critical          to     fulfilling            the
submarine's              overall      mission,             functions          such as communication,

I 1 ubma '      at S stem:                                                                         frontin                       ‘S
Seawolf AN/BEY-2 Develonment                               (GAO/IMTEC-89-35,                  March 13, ,989;:
steering,           and propulsion               system         control.           Consequently,,              AN/BSY-2
can be viewed               as just         the tip       of the            iceberg      when considering                     the
importance           and prevalence                  of computer             systems       to the          submarine.

Dependence           on computer              systems         in meeting          mission           requirements               is
not      limited       to the         SSN-21 submarine                 weapons system.                     Indeed,        this
submarine          and its          high      degree      of automation                 is truly           a microcosm              of
the     total      Defense          Department           armada.             We recently            released         a
report          to this      Subcommittee              on the         importance           and prevalence                 of
embedded computer                   resources          to Defense             weapons systems,                 and how the
Office          of the      Secretary          of Defense             oversees          the     development              of
these      resources.2               In that          report,         we state          that      embedded computer
systems          are playing              a larger       and more significant                       role     in the
functioning            of virtually             all      Defense            weapons systems.                 We also           note
that      in the       not-too-distant                 future,         it     is conceivable                that     every
subsystem          in all          major     weapons systems                  could      be computer-
controlled.                The evolution              of the         F-16     fighter          aircraft,           from the
F-16A with           its     125,000         lines       of software             code and 50 processors,                            to
the     F-16C with           its     230,000          lines         of code and 300 processors,
illustrates            how plausible              this        is.

This     possibility               is also      evident             in the     Defense          Department's
burgeoning          budget          for     mission-critical                  computer          software,          where         its
investment          has soared              from an estimated                  $9 billion            in    1985 to            $30

2DOD Embedded Comnut1                       s:      e                                       01                     Could
Benefit  Billion Dollar                      Weapons Prosrams                  (GAO/IMTEC-90-34,                   April         19,
 billion       today,        and expectations                 are      for        continued           growth            in this
 area.       While       expensive           in and of themselves,                          the     cost         of embedded
 computer          systems       is but       a fraction             of the          cost        of the weapons
systems        that      they     support          and control.                   To illustrate,                  we surveyed
nine       major      weapons       systems         and found              that     the        embedded computer
system       development            costs        reported           to us averaged                  less         than     10
percent       of the         development            cost      for     the         entire         weapons          systems.

Despite       their       relatively             low costs          when compared                   with         the     literally
hundreds           of billions            of dollars         that          weapons systems                   cost,        these
embedded computer                 systems         are the Achilles                    heel        of our military
armament.             As embedded computer                   resources              have taken               on more and
more significance                 with      each new, more sophisticated                                   weapons system,
problems        with     these        resources            (particularly                 the      software,             which        is
usually       the most costly                and difficult                  computer           resource            to develop
and maintain)            have been pinpointed                       as the          root       cause         of weapons
system       cost      overruns,           schedule        delays,           and performance                      shortfalls.
One of the            more publicized               of these          cases,is             the     B-1B bomber's
computer-based             defensive             avion,ics       system.             Although              the     extent         of
the    system's         limitations              are classified,                  they      center           on the         radar
warning       receiver           and processor             functions,               which         initiate             defensive
action       by receiving            and identifying                  threat          system         signals.
According           to the Air           Force      program         office,          software           revisions
costing       $1 billion           will      only     partially              correct           known problems                  with
this       embedded computer                system,        but      full      capability              will         not be
achieved       without          a major       system         redesign.               This         illustration               is not
an isolated                instance.                Embedded computer                   system      problems          are
occurring           more frequently.                           In our opinion,              a real       danger          lies      in
the      possibility                 that         correcting            such problems             could become, if                 they
have not           already,             a significant                   but    hidden      cost     of weapons system
development.                    Perhaps            more important,                such problems             could        become
the      number one cause                         of fielded            weapons systems             falling          short       of
mission           requirements.

Clearly,           embedded computer                        systems           demand focused           management
concern           and attention,                    not     only        by program        managers          and their
staffs          as part          of the            day-to-day            management         of weapons systems
development,                   but     also        by Defense            corporate        management             as it
discharges               its     oversight             responsibilities                  on the      larger          and more
significant               weapons systems.                       We found,           however,        that        even though
the      Office          of the         Secretary            of Defense            has in place             an established
process          to oversee                 the development                   of major      weapons systems,                    this
process          does not              focus        management            attention         and decisionmaking                     on
(1) the          embedded computer                        systems         that     are essential              to     fielding
fully       capable             weapons systems                    or    (2) the        technical        and managerial
risks          inherent          in developing                 these          embedded systems.

According           to Office                 of the        Secretary            of Defense         officials,            reasons
for      not     treating              embedded computer                      systems     as a discrete               area       of
management               focus         include            (1) a concentration                on the         entire        weapons
system          rather          than        its     separate            components,         (2)     a lack         of comfort
by senior           Defense             management with                   computer        system       issues,         and (3)
the      absence         of a designated                  Office      of the         Secretary         OF Defense
entity       expressly              responsible             for     overseeing            embedded computer
resources.               In our opinion,                  such an approach                 raises      the        question           of
whether          embedded computer                     resources          are being          recognized            for        what
they      are:         critical           and highly              complex     elements            of a weapons system
that      are extremely                  difficult          to develop          and can ultimately
determine          whether           a system            succeeds         or fails.                                      .

Despite          the     Department's                 questionable           track        record      in this            area,
recent      management               initiatives                suggest      that      an attitude             of cautious
optimism          may be in order.                       Specifically,              the    Deputy      Secretary                of
Defense          has established                     an executive-level                group       to review             and make
recommendations                   on the         Department's             oversight         of all       software
development,              which          would        include       embedded computer                 software.
Second,          the    Department               is currently             revising         its     directive             that
governs          the management                 of embedded computer                      resources,           with          the
apparent          intention              of giving         these      resources            more rigorous
management             attention.               Last,      the      Defense         Acquisition          Board's
Science          and Technology                Committee            is developing                a 5-year         plan        for
improving          the      Department'.s               overall       approach            to software             acquisition
and management,                   including            bringing       increased            management             attention
to bear          on embedded computer                      resources.

Mr.    Chairman,           computer            technology            in today's            weapons systems                    is an
area     in which          management                 oversight       is vital,            yet     so often           absent.
My hope is that                   this      hearing        will      serve     as a catalyst                for       more
focused        management         attention           on this        technology.               To this          end,     I
would       like     to suggest           that     the      Secretary         of    Defense         augment his
office's           current      approach          to overseeing            weapons systems                with        the
following           framework       for      improving           disclosure          and consideration                   of
embedded computer                system          issues.         Specifically,              the     Secretary
should        (1)    establish         a function            under      the    Defense         Acquisition              Board
or the       Defense         Acquisition           Executive         to    identify,           report,          and
recommend actions                to address           technical           issues         relating        to computer
systems        embedded in major                  weapons systems:                 (2)    ensure      that       this
function           possesses      or has access               to the       requisite           technical          talent,
both       from     inside     and outside            the     Defense         Department,            to discharge
its    responsibilitiest                  (3) hold         the    function          accountable           for     its
responsibilities;                and (4)          ensure      that      information            on embedded
computer           system     technical           risks      is available            to congressional
decisionmakers               as part       of the         authorization            and appropriations

This     concludes           my statement.                I would     be happy to respond                    to any
questions           you or other           members of the             Subcommittee                may have.