The GAO raises fresh concerns about the Department of Defense’s ability to track threats in space

Another report from the Government Accountability Office slammed a US Space Force program that is creating software capabilities to monitor objects and potential threats in space. In a report published December 22, the GAO expressed worries regarding the Space C2 program, which was originally controlled by Air Force and is now run by the Space Force.

The Department of Defense has acknowledged in recent years that potential enemies may attack US space assets during conflicts in order to weaken US capabilities. The Air Force’s latest software-intensive endeavor to construct a system that receives data from space and ground-based sensors and transfers it to a data repository is the Space Command and Control (C2) program. Data is processed so commanders may make quick decisions, respond quickly, and counter threats.

Space C2 develops apps that enable operators to identify and track threats to the US and ally space assets, and also communicate and share information, using agile development approaches. After spending upwards of $1 billion on a tailored platform dubbed Joint Mission System (JMS) to monitor satellites and debris, the Air Force began the Space C2 program in 2018. As a result of the cancellation of JMS, the Congress mandated annual updates on the Space C2 program in the National Defense Authorization Act.

The information presented to Congress over the last 2 years on the Space C2 renders it difficult to establish if the project has made any actual progress, according to GAO’s newest report. The Government Accountability Office (GAO) had previously criticized Space C2. The agency advised two years ago that the program would benefit from increased Defense Department oversight and benchmarks to track improvements, but the Air Force objected.

In 2020 and 2021, the Department of Air Force produced yearly accounts on the Space C2 program, but GAO found that the information was insufficient to assess the program’s effectiveness. “The utility of these yearly reports for monitoring is limited since they lack the information required to present a more full picture of the Space C2 program’s condition.”

“Given the financial, schedule, and performance issues faced by prior space command and control programs,” GAO noted, this is a problem. Since the yearly reports do not detail user viewpoints on the utility and advantages of the new software programs, it is difficult to estimate the return on DoD’s $150 million per year investment in this initiative. In its answer to GAO, the Department of Defense acknowledged that Air Force should also include user feedback in the program’s yearly reports. However, the Department of Defense rejected the GAO’s proposal that the program is subjected to increased Pentagon scrutiny.

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