GAO eyes global strike ISR

Report finds DOD weapons, ISR development out of sync

If the Defense Department wants to hit targets across the world with rapidly deployable weapons, it must better synchronize weapons development with the pace of advancements in technologies such as intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) systems, according to the Government Accountability Office.

In a report released in May, GAO found that in some cases, military analysts have assumed that improvements to ISR technologies would be available when DOD wants to field a future global strike system. Analysts were constrained from analyzing such enabling technology “because of the need to obtain special security clearances,” officials from the Strategic Command and Air Force Space Command told GAO.

After the last review of the United States’ nuclear posture in 2002, DOD decided to pursue a deterrence strategy that includes conventionally armed weapons with the range of intercontinental ballistic missiles.

The strategy, named prompt global strike efforts, includes developing a hypersonic glider that would re-enter the atmosphere from low-earth orbit to deliver a weapons payload. The glider and other weapons systems also could strike tactical targets in areas the military can’t reach quickly enough to hit time-sensitive targets through using other weapons platforms.

Also, a 2004 Defense Science Board analysis found that command, control, communications, computers and ISR technology cannot adequately process and share information to carry out prompt global strike missions.

According to GAO, DOD officials know that technologies underlying the C4ISR umbrella are vital for global strike weapon systems, but they have not produced a complete assessment of those enabling technologies. Global strike efforts have largely focused on developing new weapons systems, although C4ISR technology would be necessary at every step of a global strike operation, including assessing whether such a strike was successful, the GAO report states. For example, if global strike systems were to use innovative weapons delivery approaches such as flechette warheads, which disperse metal darts on impact and do not create large craters that traditional explosive devices do, damage might not be readily visible to current ISR systems, the report states.

In an April 2007 review, GAO found that despite development of an ISR Integration Roadmap, DOD still does not coordinate ISR acquisition. “The road map does not yet clarify what ISR requirements are already filled or possibly saturated, identify critical gaps for future focus, or define requirements for meeting the goal of global persistent surveillance,” GAO said.

In addition, the military doesn’t agree on the definition of a global strike, GAO found.

The confusion extends to which officials would be authorized to order global strike missions, what type of targets the missions would include and the extent to which a global strike would overlap with in-theater strike missions.

In response to GAO’s recommendations, James Durham, director of Joint Advanced Concepts in the Office of the Secretary of Defense, said a committee will approve a universally acceptable definition of a global strike.

At a House hearing on Feb. 28, Air Force Gen. Kevin Chilton, commander of the Strategic Command, said the purpose of global strikes falls into two categories. “One, it can also provide some strategic deterrent capability in line with maybe relieving some of the target sets that we would normally cover with nuclear” weapons, he told the House Armed Services Committee’s Strategic Forces Subcommittee. The terror caused by nuclear weapons has led strategic theorists to question those weapons’ deterrence credibility.

The second purpose for global strikes, Chilton said, is to provide a quick-strike capability against time-sensitive targets. They “provide an additional arrow in the quiver,” he said, “to address emerging threats [when] we might find a nuclear weapon application to be self-deterring to address that threat.”

About the Author

David Perera is a special contributor to Defense Systems.

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