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MDA Quality Control Pays Off

"MDA has taken a number of steps to improve quality assurance," the report said.
by Martin Sieff
UPI Senior News Analyst
Washington DC (UPI) May 07, 2007
The U.S. Government Accountability Office has praised the Missile Defense Agency in a new report for improving its quality processes. The progress was cited in a GAO report delivered April 30 as testimony before the Subcommittee on Defense of the Committee on Appropriations of the U.S. House of Representatives.

The report acknowledged that during 2004, as previously reported in these columns, "poor quality control procedures caused the missile defense program to experience test failures and slowed production."

However, the report, GAO-07-7999T, also confirmed previous reports in BMD Focus about the emphasis on quality control in engineering the component parts of anti-ballistic missile interceptors that MDA director Lt. Gen. Henry "Trey" Obering III has made a main priority of the U.S. ballistic missile defense program.

"MDA has initiated a number of actions to correct quality control weaknesses, and the agency reports that these actions have been largely successful," the GAO report said. "Although MDA continues to identify quality assurance procedures that need strengthening, recent audits by MDA's Office of Quality, Safety and Mission Assurance show such improvements as increased on-time deliveries, reduced test failures and sustained improvement in product quality.

"MDA has taken a number of steps to improve quality assurance," the report said. "These include developing a teaming approach to restore the reliability of key suppliers, conducting regular quality inspections to quickly identify and find resolutions for quality problems, adjusting award fee plans to encourage contractors to maintain a good quality assurance program and encourage industry best practices, as well as placing MDA-developed assurance provisions on prime contracts."

The report also noted that the MDA had taken action to address serious quality-control issues even before the problems of 2004 became apparent.

"As early as 2003, MDA made a critical assessment of a key supplier's organization and determined that the supplier's manufacturing processes lacked discipline, its corrective action procedures were ineffective, its technical data package was inadequate and personnel were not properly trained," the report said. "The supplier responded by hiring a quality assurance director, five quality assurance professionals, a training manager and a scheduler. In addition, the supplier installed an electronic problem- reporting database, formed new boards -- such as a failure review board -- established a new configuration management system and ensured that manufacturing activity was consistent with contract requirements."

The results of this new emphasis on quality control quickly became apparent, GAO said. "During different time periods between March 2004 and August 2006, MDA measured the results of the supplier's efforts and found a 64 percent decrease in open quality control issues, a 43 percent decline in test failures and a 9 percent increase in on-time deliveries," it said.

The MDA has started to apply the same methodology to other suppliers who had been suffering quality-control problems, and it is finding that the same approach works with different companies, the GAO said.

"MDA expanded its teaming approach in 2006 to another problem supplier and reports that many systemic solutions are already underway," the report continued.

"During fiscal year 2006, MDA's audits continued to identify both quality control weaknesses and quality control procedures that contractors are addressing. During 2006, the agency audited six contractors and identified 372 deficiencies and observations," it said. "As of December 2006, the six contractors had collectively closed 157, or 42 percent, of the 372 audit findings. MDA also reported other signs of positive results.

"In 2006, MDA conducted a follow-on audit of Raytheon, the subcontractor for GMD's exoatmospheric kill vehicle," the report said. "A 2005 audit of Raytheon had found that the subcontractor was not correctly communicating essential kill vehicle requirements to suppliers, did not exercise good configuration control and could not build a consistent and reliable product. The 2006 audit was more positive, reporting less variability in Raytheon's production processes, increasing stability in its statistical process control data, fewer test problem reports and product waivers and sustained improvement in product quality."

The GAO's conclusions appear to validate the MDA's policy of concentrating on upgrading quality control in the manufacture and testing of the components for its new BMD systems. They also confirm the principle we have previously noted in these columns that, regardless of the enormous sums that may be spent on ballistic missile defenses and however brilliant, groundbreaking or elegant the systems may be in theory, their reliability and effectiveness in defending millions of lives will ultimately depend on the old-fashioned verities of quality control, individual component testing and high engineering standards.

Gen. Obering and his deputy, Brig. Gen. Patrick O'Reilly, recognize those old engineering truths. The prospects for the success of the U.S. BMD program are brighter because of them.

Source: United Press International

related report

BMD Watch: Tauscher swings ax on BMD
by Martin Sieff
UPI Senior News Analyst Washington (UPI) May 8 - The new Democrat-controlled U.S. Congress has started to wield its ax on ballistic missile defense programs. The initial cuts suggested in the markup of the 2008 Defense Appropriations Bill last week come to around 9 percent of the total Bush administration budget request. In other words, they amount to $764 million out of an $8.9 billion request.

The controversial Airborne Laser, or ABL, program took the greatest individual program hit. The Strategic Forces Subcommittee of the Armed Services Committee of the U.S. House of Representatives wants to slash $400 million from the $517 million requested for the development of the troubled and widely criticized program. If that cut goes through, it may be curtains for the ABL, whose prime contractor is Boeing.

The subcommittee, chaired by Rep. Ellen Tauscher, D-Calif., also took a swipe at the Bush administration's cherished programs to deploy BMD systems in Central Europe over the next five years. The administration requested $300 million. Tauscher and her committee cut that in their markup to around $160 million.

However, Tauscher and her subcommittee were by no means opposed to all BMD programs. Defense News reported May 2 that they boosted funding for the U.S. Navy's Aegis systems by $66 million and for the U.S. Army's Patriot Advanced Capability-3, or PAC-3, systems by $12 million.

"Worried that military space programs cannot be completed on schedule and within budget, the subcommittee cut $200 million from the Alternate Infrared Satellite System, $150 million from the Global Positioning Systems III and $80 million from High Integrity GPS," Defense News said.

"However, subcommittee members added $130 million for space situational awareness and space control capabilities, $100 million to the Advanced Extremely High Frequency satellite and another $100 million to the Space-Based Infrared System High," it said. The subcommittee's decision is not the final word in the budget process, however. The bill may be heavily amended and some of the cuts restored in a reconciliation conference with the Senate. Or President George W. Bush, who has already shown his willingness to veto military funding bills crafted by the Democrats on Capitol Hill when they attempt to derail major policies, may swing his own ax on the bill.

Source: United Press International

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