How Much Do GMD Tests Cost? (December 28, 2012)

My previous post discussed the low rate of flight and intercept testing of the GMD system.    Since testing of operationally-configured interceptors began in December 2005, MDA has averaged about one flight test per year.  Former MDA director Lt. General Patrick O’Reilly has argued that this pace is the fastest that MDA can sustain while still leaving time for learning between tests.

However, another potential factor is simply the cost of the tests.  As discussed below, the cost of a GMD intercept test could be as great as $300 million or even more.  One such test would then be about 3.75% of a roughly $8 billion annual MDA budget.   This may not seem like a large fraction, but could be a significant issue for an agency under budget pressure.  And it makes it clear that doing two or three intercept tests per year, such as is occurring with Aegis SM-3 testing (which comes out of the same budget, but the cost of each test is much less), would likely eat up a prohibitively large chunk of MDA’s budget.

Here are some cost figures for recent and planned GMD flight tests:

FTG-05 (December, 2008):  This is the most recent successful GMD intercept test.  Its cost “exceeded $210 million” according to the Defense Contract Management Agency (DCMA).[1]

FTG-06 (January, 2010): This test was the first intercept test using the new CE-II kill vehicle, which failed to hit its target.  Prior to the test, the Government Accountability Office (GAO), based on MDA figures, estimated its cost at $236 million.[2]  However, also prior to the test, the DCMA estimated that its cost was “likely to exceed $310 million”[3]   Moreover, the GAO noted that both these estimates were likely “understated” because they did not take into account delays in conducting the test and costs associated with determining the cause of its failure.

BVT-01 (June 2010):  A non-intercept flight test of a two stage version of the GBI booster with a CE-I kill vehicle.   The test was reported as a success although “an EKV anomaly was experienced that might affect system performance.”[4]   I have not seen a cost estimate for this test, although it is likely the least expensive of any of the tests discussed in this post.

FTG-06a (December, 2010):  A repeat of FTG-06, this test failed due to a problem with the CE-II kill vehicle.   GAO reported its cost at $240 million, based on MDA data.[5]  It is unclear (to me) whether this was a pre- or post-test estimate.  However, it does not include the costs of assessing the failure, which as of February 2012 were $91 million[6].  Thus the total cost for FTG-06a is at least $331 million.   Given that the failure investigation continued well into 2012 (and may go beyond this), the actual total costs are likely significantly higher.

CTV-01 (now planned for January, 2013): A non-intercept test intended to confirm the cause of the FTG-06a failure.  As of February 2012, the MDA stated that the cost of this test was $141 million.  However, since the test has been delayed at least six months since then, the actual cost will be higher.

FTG-06b (planned for summer 2013): This is a planned Intercept test to confirm the operation of repaired CE-II kill vehicle.   According to the MDA, its costs through February, 2012 were $269 million.[7] Again, since the test will not take place until at least summer 2013, actual costs will be higher.

FTG-08 (2014): Apparently an intercept test of the two-stage version of the GBI interceptor.  I have not seen a cost estimate for this test.

FTG-11 (2015):  This is planned to be the first intercept test against an ICBM-range target.    It is to be a salve test – two interceptors against one target.[8]   According to the MDA (see table at end of post), this test is expected to cost about $206 million.

FTG-13 (2016):   This test is planned to use two interceptors against two ICBM-range targets.[9]  According to the MDA table below, this test will cost about $191 million.

However, the costs for FTG-11 and FTG-13 seem very low, since both tests are planned to involve two interceptors.  For the last several years, MDA has stated that the cost of a GBI interceptor was about $70 million.    MDA cost figures in the 2012 National Academy of Sciences Report makes it clear that this figure was for a GBI with the older CE-I kill vehicle (which alone cost $29 million).[10]   New GBI’s with the more expensive CE-II kill vehicle ($39 million each) will presumably cost correspondingly more.  Moreover, MDA told the NAS panel that the need for refurbishment parts and flight test rotation kits had impacted suppliers, leading to increased costs, and that it had allocated $86.5 million each for the next batch of five GBIs.

Thus it reasonable to expect, not counting costs associated with modifying GBIs for test purposes, that each GBI costs at least $70 million, and since each test involves two GBIs the cost just for the GBIs should be at least $140 million for each test.  Yet in the only line item under which the GBIs would appear to fit, the “GMD” line, the cost for FTG-11 is only $117 million and for FTG-13 only $91 million. The reason for this discrepancy is unclear (to me), but one possibility is that some or all of the GBIs being used in these tests are older ones that were purchased previously and these original purchase costs are not included in the table, which only include future costs (“programmed funds”).  Another possibility might be that the costs shown are for only one of the GBIs used in each test, although such a  breakdown doesn’t seem to make sense (to me), particularly for FTG-11 in which there is only one target.

Here is the table from MDA for FTG-11 and FTG-13 (and the question it was provided in response to):



Figure 1.  Table of costs for FTG-11 and FTG-13 (and some preceding text from Congressional hearing) (click on table to enlarge).[11] 

[1]Defense Contract Management Agency estimate cited by GAO.  Government Accountability Office, “Defense Acquisitions: Missile Defense Transition Provides Opportunity to Strengthen Acquisition Approach,” GAO-10-311, February 2011, p. 21.

[2] DCMA estimate cited by GAO.  General Accountability Office, “Missile Defense: Action Needed to Improve Transparency and Accountability,” GAO-11-372, March 2011, p. 87.  The $236 million figure is repeated in General Accountability Office, “Missile Defense: Opportunity Exists to Strengthen Acquisition by Reducing Concurrency,” GAO-12-486, p. 75.

[3] Defense Contract Management Agency estimate cited by GAO.  GAO-11-372, p. 87.

[4] Government Accountability Office, “Assessments of Selected Weapons Systems,” GAO-11-SP233, p. 44.

[5] GAO-12-486, p 75.

[6] GAO-12-486, p. 75.

[7] GAO-12-486, p. 75.

[8] According to DOT&E J. Michael Gilmore, this test, in late FY 2015, “will be a salvo shot, two GBIs and an incoming ICBM target.”  Subcommittee on Strategic Forces, House Armed Services Committee, March 6, 2012, p. 14. Available at:

[9] According to DOT&E J. Michael Gilmore, this test, in late FY 2016, “will be a multiple simultaneous engagement of two ICBMs.”  Subcommittee on Strategic Forces, House Armed Services Committee, March 6, 2012, p. 14. Available at:

[10] National Research Council, National Academy of Sciences, “Making Sense of Ballistic Missile Defense: An Assessment of Concepts and Systems for U.S. Boost-Phase Missile Defense in Comparison to Other Alternatives,” September 11, 2012,  pp. E-46, E-47.  Available at:

[11] Subcommittee on Strategic Forces, House Armed Services Committee, March 6, 2012, pp. 141-142.  Available at:

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