NORAD's Missile Warning System

What Went Wrong? Gao ID: MASAD-81-30 May 15, 1981

GAO was requested to review recent missile warning system failures at the North American Air Defense Command (NORAD). The NORAD command post is in the underground Cheyenne Mountain complex in Colorado. Missile warning information gathered from the Worldwide Military Command and Control System (WWMCCS) is processed on the 427M system computers. The 427M computer system is presently in an upgrade program. GAO evaluated: (1) the extent, if any, of the relationship of computer acquisition policies, directives, or procedures implementing the legal requirements of the Brooks Act to the 427M system problems; (2) actions taken to correct missile warning system failures; and (3) what remains to be done and if that effort is hindered in any way by computer acquisition policies, directives, or procedures.

GAO could not document any relationship of the acquisition policies, directives, or procedures to 427M system problems. In response to recent GAO recommendations, NORAD has instituted significant changes in its acquisition management of computer resources and has planned further improvements. One further action is still needed: NORAD should be released from any requirements to use WWMCCS equipment and software, because it is not adequate to satisfy the NORAD requirements. NORAD has taken actions to correct the problems that led to recent missile warning failures. It has constructed a software development and testing facility that allows the development and testing of all software at an offsite facility to prevent errors which occurred when test data were inadvertently injected into the operational missile warning system. Also, changes in warning transmission procedures, line check message formats, and outgoing message error checking should prevent false alerts such as those which occurred in June 1980. In examining the documentation on the 427M system interim upgrades and planned follow-on replacement systems, GAO could not identify any potential hinderance to their acquisition from the current applicable legislation, policies, or implementing regulations. NORAD is proceeding in a logical, reasoned manner toward 427M system interim upgrades for the mid-1980's and the follow-on replacement in the late 1980's.


Our recommendations from this work are listed below with a Contact for more information. Status will change from "In process" to "Open," "Closed - implemented," or "Closed - not implemented" based on our follow up work.

Director: Team: Phone:

The Justia Government Accountability Office site republishes public reports retrieved from the U.S. GAO These reports should not be considered official, and do not necessarily reflect the views of Justia.