The Department of Defense (DOD) estimates that the cost of current unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) acquisition programs and related systems will exceed $37.5 billion in fiscal years 2012 through 2016. These programs and systems can be found across DOD and the military services (Air Force, Army, Navy, and Marine Corps). The continued success of UAS on the battlefield has led to greatly increased demand from warfighters and the development of many new systems. Further, in announcing the departments new budget priorities, the Secretary of Defense highlighted various current and planned unmanned systems that are considered to be high-priority in terms of meeting the requirements of the new strategic guidance.
In 2009, GAOs work highlighted the need to consider commonality in UASusing the same or interchangeable subsystems and components in more than one subsystem to improve interoperability of systemsand indicated that DOD lacked an analytical approach to prioritize capability needs which would reduce the likelihood of redundancies in UAS capabilities. As GAO reported in June 2011, although the Joint Requirements Oversight Council is directed to ensure that trade-offs among cost, schedule, and performance objectives are considered as part of its requirements review process, it currently does not prioritize requirements, consider redundancies across proposed programs, or prioritize and analyze capability gaps in a consistent manner. Congress has enacted legislation requiring DOD to establish a policy and acquisition strategy for more common ground stations and payloads for manned and unmanned aircraft systems.
The elements of DODs planned UAS portfolio include unmanned aircraft, payloads, and ground control stations. Unmanned aircraft are fixed or rotary winged aircraft capable of flight without an onboard crew. Payloads are subsystems and equipment carried on a UAS configured to accomplish specific missions, including intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance and attack. Ground control stations handle multiple mission aspects such as system command and control, mission planning, payload control, and communications.
The $37.5 billion amount includes funding for the development, procurement, sustainment, military construction and personnel, and war funding to support UAS activities in then year dollars identified in the Presidents 2012 budget submission.
Duncan Hunter National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2009, Pub. L. No. 110-417, §144 (2008).
Military service-driven requirementsrather than an effective departmentwide strategyhave led to overlap in DODs UAS capabilities, resulting in many programs and systems being pursued that have similar flight characteristics and mission requirements. DOD currently has 15 unmanned aircraft programs which it categorizes into five groups according to weight, altitude, and speed. Groups 4 and 5 contain the largest and most expensive aircraft, with weights exceeding 1,320 pounds. Group 5 aircraft fly higherabove 18,000 feetthan Group 4 aircraft. DOD has spent almost $19 billion through fiscal year 2011 to develop and procure three aircraft in Group 5 and five aircraft in Group 4, where GAO found potential overlap, and expects to spend an additional $32.4 billion to complete these programs.
Illustrative of the overlap, in Group 5, the Navy plans to spend more than $3 billion to develop its own variant of the Air Force Global Hawkthe Broad Area Maritime Surveillance UASrather than using the already fielded Global Hawk. According to the Navy, its unique requirements necessitate modifications to the Global Hawk airframe, payload interfaces, and ground control station. However, the Navy program office was not able to provide quantitative analysis to justify the variant. According to program officials, no analysis was conducted to determine the cost-effectiveness of developing a new aircraft to meet the Navys requirements versus buying more Global Hawks.
If the preference for service-unique solutions persists in the absence of a departmentwide strategy, so will the potential for overlap in the future. DOD plans to significantly expand the UAS portfolio through 2040, including five new systems in the planning stages that are expected to become formal programs in the near future.
In addition to unmanned aircraft, DOD expects to spend about $9 billion to buy 42 UAS payloads through fiscal year 2016. Each payload provides a sensor using one of three different technologies: electro-optical/infra-red, radar, and signals intelligence. For Group 4 and 5 aircraft, GAO identified overlap among numerous sensors being developed within each of the three technologies (see table below).
Overlapping Development of Sensors for UAS Payloads in Group 4 and 5 Aircraft
Number of programs
Four Air Force programs
Four Army programs
One Navy program
Five multiservice programs
Three Air Force programs
Two Army programs
One Navy program
One multiservice program
Four Air Force programs
Two Navy programs
Two Army programs
Source: GAO analysis of DOD data.
While the fact that some multiservice payloads are being developed shows the potential for collaboration, the service-centric requirements process still creates the potential for overlap. For example, the Army and Air Force are developing two separate signals intelligence sensors (the TSP and ASIP 2-C, respectively) that have similar capabilities to track ground communication and activity. According to a DOD-sponsored study in March 2010, the department could have saved almost $1.2 billion had the Air Force acquired the same sensor as the Army. However, since such an approach was not considered earlier in the program, DOD concluded there was not a business case for combining the programs. Instead, the study noted, the ideal time for such a decision would have been when requirements were being determined. More recently, the Navy has begun development of its own signals intelligence payload (the MCS-21) for the Broad Area Maritime Surveillance aircraft, even though the sensors capabilities are similar to those of the Air Force and Army payloads.
Through fiscal year 2016, DOD plans to spend about $3 billion to acquire 13 ground control stations and GAO identified overlap and potential duplication among 10 of these systems. Because aircraft, payloads and control stations are usually developed together, a unique ground control station therefore exists for almost every UAS that DOD has acquired. According to a cognizant DOD official, the associated software is about 90 percent duplicative because similar software is developed for each ground control station. Even though the functionality of the software is similar, a considerable amount of additional time and money is invested in capabilities that have already been paid for and can also make it difficult and costly to modify or upgrade.
DOD has acknowledged that an open architecture framework could provide opportunities for increased competition and collaboration to satisfy requirements through common software solutions, among other areas. DOD has created a UAS control segment working group, which is chartered to increase interoperability and enable software re-use and open systems. This could allow for greater efficiency, less redundancy, and lower costs, while potentially reducing levels of contractor proprietary data that cannot be shared across UAS programs. However, existing ground control stations already have their own architecture and migration to a new service-oriented architecture will not happen until at least 2015, almost 6 years after it began.
DOD has acknowledged that it has bought many UAS systems inefficiently and has begun to take steps to improve outcomes as it expands these capabilities over the next several years. DOD continues to face challenges in its ability to improve efficiency and reduce the potential for overlap and duplication as it buys UAS capabilities:
In 2009, the Office of the Secretary of Defense directed the military services to develop a common control station service-oriented architecture for implementation into the military services control stations to help acquire, integrate, and extend the capabilities of current control stations across the UAS portfolio. The Air Force has decided to implement a complementary architecture.
To reduce the likelihood of overlap and potential duplication in its UAS portfolio, GAO has made several prior recommendations to DOD which have not been fully implemented. While DOD generally agreed with the intent of those recommendations, the department has not always agreed with the proposed method of implementation. The overlap in current UAS programs, as well as the continued potential in future programs, shows that DOD must still do more to implement GAOs prior recommendations. GAO believes the potential for savings is significant and with DODs renewed commitment to UAS for meeting new strategic requirements, all the more imperative. Specifically, DOD should
The information contained in this analysis is based on findings from products listed in the related GAO products section and additional work GAO conducted. GAO comprehensively identified, to the extent possible, using a data collection instrument, DODs UAS portfolio to analyze how DOD and the military services acquired this portfolio. GAO assessed the Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology, and Logistics and military service UAS roadmaps, requirements, and concepts of operation. GAO conducted interviews with officials from the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology, and Logistics, military service laboratories and program offices, as well as UAS contractors. Using these data, GAO evaluated to what extent collaboration and coordination efforts by DOD and the military services resulted inor reduced the potential forduplication, fragmentation, and overlap.
See pages 337-338 of the PDF version of this report (appendix III) for a list of the programs GAO identified that may have similar or overlapping objectives, provide similar services or be fragmented across government missions. Overlap and fragmentation may not necessarily lead to actual duplication, and some degree of overlap and duplication may be justified.
GAO provided a draft of this report section to DOD. DOD provided clarifications on individual program decisions and other technical comments which were incorporated as appropriate. As part of its routine audit work, GAO will track agency actions to address these recommendations and report to Congress.
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