Unmanned Aircraft Systems:

Additional Actions Needed to Improve Management and Integration of DOD Efforts to Support Warfighter Needs

GAO-09-175: Published: Nov 14, 2008. Publicly Released: Nov 14, 2008.

Additional Materials:

Contact:

Sharon L. Pickup
(202) 512-9619
contact@gao.gov

 

Office of Public Affairs
(202) 512-4800
youngc1@gao.gov

The Department of Defense's (DOD) use of unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) continues to increase. In 2000, DOD components had fewer than 50 unmanned aircraft in their inventory. By May 2008, they had more than 6,000. However, DOD faces challenges, such as UAS acquisition and the integration of UAS into joint combat operations. GAO has made a series of recommendations to address challenges, including the need for a UAS strategic plan. To improve upon the management and use of UAS, DOD has implemented several actions, such as establishing new task forces. GAO was asked to (1) identify key DOD efforts to improve the management and operational use of UAS and (2) assess the extent to which these efforts constitute an overarching organizational framework to guide and oversee UAS efforts. GAO reviewed DOD documents such as directives and memorandums, and interviewed agency officials.

Over the past several years, the Office of the Secretary of Defense, the Joint Staff, and the military services have undertaken several initiatives to improve the management of UAS programs and the operational use of these systems. Specifically, DOD has established new entities and refocused the mission of an existing organization. DOD has also initiated several studies to determine UAS needs and help inform future UAS acquisition decisions. In addition, DOD issued the Unmanned Systems Roadmap 2007-2032 (Roadmap), which it characterizes as a comprehensive plan for the evolution and transition of unmanned systems technology, including UAS. Also, in select cases the military services are developing and fielding common UAS programs and proceeding to develop more common concepts of operations. DOD has taken steps to improve the management and operational use of UAS, but its approach lacks key elements of an overarching organizational framework needed to fully integrate efforts, sustain progress, and resolve challenges. First, DOD has increased management attention on UAS and commenced at least seven separate initiatives since September 2006 to address challenges presented by the rapid integration of UAS into the military services' force structure, yet no single office or entity, supported by an implementation team, is accountable for integrating these key management efforts. Although these efforts are intended to complement one another, the priorities for each initiative have not been fully integrated with a DOD-wide approach to resolve UAS challenges and determine how UAS will meet the department's intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance or other mission needs. Second, DOD has not defined the roles, responsibilities, and relationships among the various UAS-related organizations to provide for effective communication of efforts within DOD and among external stakeholders. For example, DOD has not clarified how it will coordinate the efforts of its task forces addressing UAS issues. Third, DOD has not developed a comprehensive and integrated strategic plan to align departmental and service efforts to improve the management and operational use of UAS with long-term implementation goals, priorities, time lines, and other departmental planning efforts. DOD issued the Roadmap in 2007 to guide the development of unmanned systems to meet joint warfighter needs, but the Roadmap lacks key elements of a sound strategic plan, such as a focus on how to accomplish DOD's goals and objectives for UAS, milestones to track progress, identification of performance gaps, and clear linkages between proposed UAS investments and long-term planning goals. GAO's prior work has shown that a framework that includes an accountable implementation team, an established communications strategy, and a comprehensive and integrated strategic plan can serve as a basis for organizations that seek to transform their cultures in response to governance challenges and to sustain progress over time. In the absence of an approach that establishes clear accountability and a strategic plan to guide UAS development and investment decisions, DOD will continue to be challenged to fully integrate departmental and service efforts to resolve problems in the management and operational use of UAS.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: DOD stated that it was planning no actions on addressing this recommendation. DOD has taken steps to provide the UAS Task Force with dedicated funding to develop a 'sense-and-avoid' capability for unmanned aircraft and a common, interoperable ground station. These activities directly support two purposes of the UAS Task Force -- namely, the streamlining of UAS acquisitions and the integration of unmanned aircraft into the national airspace system. However, additional actions would be needed to address the intent of our recommendation.

    Recommendation: To develop a fully integrated framework to sustain progress and resolve long-standing challenges in the management and operational use of UAS, the Secretary of Defense should designate a single departmental entity that is responsible and accountable for integrating all cross-cutting DOD efforts related to improving the management and operational use of UAS. This entity should be supported by an implementation team with dedicated resources and funding and should serve as the DOD point of coordination for all UAS initiatives; integrate all UAS activities throughout DOD; and as part of the planning, programming, budgeting, and execution process, make recommendations to the Secretary of Defense in determining the priority of the department's UAS-related initiatives.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: We found that DOD lacked an effective strategy to facilitate communication of unmanned aircraft system (UAS) efforts within DOD and among external stakeholders, such as Congress, because DOD had not clearly defined the roles, responsibilities, and relationships in directives or other publications of its various initiatives intended to improve the management and operational use of UAS, such as the Office of the Secretary of Defense's UAS Task Force. As a result, we reported that it was unclear how the work of the task force was integrated with that of other DOD entities that were addressing UAS issues. We recommended that DOD define, in directives or other publications as appropriate, the roles, responsibilities, and relationships among various UAS-related entities to facilitate communication within DOD and among external stakeholders. Consistent with our recommendation, in April 2010, the Deputy Secretary of Defense approved the Unmanned Aircraft Systems Task Force charter. The charter was established to delineate the authorities and responsibilities of the UAS Task Force, and outline its operating relationships between the Office of the Secretary of Defense, the Joint Staff, the Military Departments, and the U.S. Joint Forces Command--organizations which we reported also had initiatives underway to improve UAS management and integration. With the establishment of a formal charter, DOD has improved its strategy for communicating the goals, roles, responsibilities, and relationships of the UAS Task Force, and the charter can also serve as means to guide the UAS Task Force in accomplishing its assigned tasks.

    Recommendation: To develop a fully integrated framework to sustain progress and resolve long-standing challenges in the management and operational use of UAS, the Secretary of Defense should define, in directives or other publications as appropriate, the roles, responsibilities, and relationships among various UAS-related entities to facilitate communication within DOD and among external stakeholders.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

  3. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The department's Unmanned Systems Integrated Roadmap 2011-2036, completed in September 2011, articulates DOD's vision for the continued integration of unmanned systems into the department's force structure and that unmanned systems, including UAS, be fully integrated amongst the department's capabilities. The 2011 roadmap identifies DOD's goals for unmanned systems, cites challenges, like airspace integration and training, to meeting these goals, and presents solutions, milestones, and timeframes to address these challenges. In addition, the roadmap provides linkages between unmanned system capabilities and DOD's Joint Capability Areas, to establish where unmanned systems can be used to address current capability gaps.

    Recommendation: To develop a fully integrated framework to sustain progress and resolve long-standing challenges in the management and operational use of UAS, the Secretary of Defense should develop a comprehensive and integrated UAS strategic plan, in coordination with DOD components, to align UAS goals and funding with long-term departmental planning efforts. The UAS strategic plan should, at a minimum, include elements such as a comprehensive mission statement, long-term goals and an explanation of how the goals are to be achieved, a timeline with milestones to track progress toward short- and long-term goals, and a determination of the resources needed to close any current capability and capacity gaps. In addition, the strategic plan should show clear linkages between UAS initiatives and other comprehensive departmental planning efforts, such as the Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance Integration Roadmap and the development of joint capability area strategic plans.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

 

Explore the full database of GAO's Open Recommendations »

Nov 20, 2014

Nov 19, 2014

Nov 18, 2014

Oct 30, 2014

Oct 16, 2014

Oct 10, 2014

Oct 8, 2014

Sep 30, 2014

Looking for more? Browse all our products here