The US Department of Defense (DoD) lacks the comprehensive guidance for sustaining missile defence system components, such as missile interceptors, sensors and communications, according to the US Government Accountability Office (GAO).

The GAO identified two fundamental issues: first, there is no entity assigned to oversee sustainment; second, there is no approach for prioritising efforts to address sustainment challenges.

Lacking an accountable entity leads to a severe lack of visibility for the missile defence system needs. This suggests that the procurement of the components is the DoD’s only consideration.

The department therefore neglects the lifetime maintenance of its missile defence systems, meaning it cannot track the systems’ needs or prevent system failures that could be easily rectified.

This is a critical oversight that is needed to maintain a competitive military advantage as “potential adversaries have acquired missiles and made significant technical advances” that outmatch the DoD’s failing systems.

Moreover, lacking an approach for prioritising and making department-wide sustainment decisions is probematic. The GAO gives an example: “while the Missile Defence Agency (MDA) and the Army both recognise corrosion as a challenge, the Army had not constructed permanent facillities for the element to prevent corrosion due to the prioritisation of other projects and resource constraints.

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The need for accountability

The Missile Defense Agency (MDA) is responsible for acquiring and developing missile defence system elements. MDA and the military services have developed element-specific sustainment plans.

GAO found that the military services and MDA report missile defence readiness data to different decision makers using different systems.

The military services record unit readiness data, which are available DoD-wide and included in a semi-annual report to Congress. Whereas, MDA records readiness data on missile defence system elements in a different system, but does not share this information across the DoD, unless requested.

Various DoD officials told GAO that their offices would like MDA to share its data more readily, which would enhance the department’s strategic understanding of missile defence readiness.

Loss of money and components

The loss of money and components is not a new problem the DoD has faced. The GAO findings follow another GAO report criticising the lack of accountability for F-35 Lightning II jet parts, which leads to the loss of millions of dollars.

An accountable system where the DoD can manage its own interests is a priority. It ensures that the department can be assured of its military readiness at all times, as opposed to cashing in all it has for weapon systems when it only needs to track the integrity of its existing systems.