Unmanned Aerial Systems:

Air Force and Army Should Improve Strategic Human Capital Planning for Pilot Workforces

GAO-17-53: Published: Jan 31, 2017. Publicly Released: Jan 31, 2017.

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Brenda S. Farrell
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farrellb@gao.gov

 

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What GAO Found

The Air Force and the Army have not fully applied four of the five key principles for effective strategic human capital planning for managing pilots of unmanned aerial systems (UAS) that are important for resolving the Air Force's pilot shortages and the Army's training shortfalls (see table below). Consistent with the first principle, the Air Force involved top senior leaders, UAS pilots, and stakeholders to develop a plan to resolve its UAS pilot shortages—including reassigning UAS workload to Air National Guard units and supporting training and operations with contractors. The Air Force partially applied the second principle to tailor its strategy to address gaps, or shortages, in UAS pilots, such as by using temporary personnel. As of March 2016, 37 percent of the personnel filling UAS pilot positions are temporarily assigned manned-aircraft pilots. Air Force headquarters personnel stated that no other career field in the Air Force relies on temporarily assigned personnel to this extent. Without tailoring its strategy to provide more permanently assigned pilots, the Air Force risks losing the experience that temporarily assigned manned-aircraft pilots have acquired. The Army partially applied the second principle because its strategy is not fully tailored to address its shortages in unit training. The Army experienced training shortfalls—61 of 73 UAS units flew fewer than half of the 340-flight-hour per unit annual minimum training goal in fiscal year 2015. A Senior Army official acknowledged the continued training shortfalls was a concern for the Army. Without revising its strategy to address the remaining training shortfalls, the Army risks that its UAS units may continue to train at levels below Army goals.

Extent to Which the Air Force and the Army Applied Key Principles of Effective Strategic Human Capital Planning

Key principle

Air Force

Army

Involve Top Senior Leaders, Employees, and Stakeholders

Develop Strategies Tailored to Address Gaps in Critical Skills and Competencies

Monitor Progress toward Meeting Human Capital Goals

Build Capability to Support Human Capital Strategies by Using Flexibilities

Determine the Critical Skills and Competencies Needed

Legend: Applied ● Partially applied ◒ Not applied ○

Source: GAO key principles (GAO-04-39); GAO analysis of Air Force and Army data. | GAO-17-53

The Air Force and the Army have not evaluated their workforce mix—that is the mix of military, federal civilian, and private sector contractor personnel—to determine the extent to which these personnel sources could be used to fly UAS. Furthermore, although neither the Air Force nor the Army have evaluated how and to what extent federal civilians could be used as UAS pilots, both services are using private sector contractors to fly some UAS. Without evaluating their workforce mix, the Air Force and the Army do not have information on alternatives for meeting UAS pilot personnel requirements to meet mission needs. In addition, although the Air Force and the Army decided to use private sector contractors to meet mission needs, they did not conduct cost analyses to inform this decision. Without such an analysis, the Air Force and the Army may not be using the most cost-effective workforces to achieve UAS missions.

Why GAO Did This Study

The demand for UAS combat operation support has grown dramatically in the last decade. Since 2008, the Air Force has more than quadrupled its requirements for UAS pilots but faced challenges meeting the requirements due to UAS pilot shortages. Meanwhile, a 2015 Army review found that Army UAS units' mishap rate was higher than for other aircraft and Army officials stated that training shortfalls had contributed to the mishaps.

Senate Report 114-49 included a provision that GAO review Air Force and Army UAS personnel strategies. GAO assesses the extent to which the Air Force and the Army have (1) applied key principles of effective strategic human capital planning for managing UAS pilots and (2) evaluated the workforce mix to meet UAS pilot requirements. GAO compared its previously developed key principles of effective strategic human capital planning with Air Force and Army actions. GAO analyzed data on required and actual Air Force UAS pilots and data on Army UAS training.

What GAO Recommends

GAO's 11 recommendations include that the Air Force tailor its strategy to address UAS pilot shortages; the Army revise its strategy to address UAS training shortfalls; and that both services evaluate their workforce mix for UAS pilot positions and conduct analysis to ensure cost effectiveness of workforce decisions. DOD concurred with 2 recommendations and partially concurred with 9, noting actions that it believed addressed the intent of GAO's recommendations. GAO continues to believe that DOD needs to take actions to fully address the recommendations.

For more information, contact Brenda S. Farrell at (202) 512-3604 or farrellb@gao.gov.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Open

    Comments: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.

    Recommendation: To help the Air Force in its effort to address UAS pilot shortfalls, and to help ensure that the Air Force strategies to address UAS pilot shortages are tailored to address remaining issues, such as the significant amount of pilots who are temporarily assigned to the UAS pilot career, the limited amount of cadet interest in the UAS pilot career, and the workload of UAS pilots, the Secretary of Defense should direct the Secretary of the Air Force to revise the Get Well Plan to address these issues.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

  2. Status: Open

    Comments: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.

    Recommendation: To help the Air Force in its effort to address UAS pilot shortfalls, and to help the Air Force ensure that its strategies are having the intended effects, the Secretary of Defense should direct the Secretary of the Air Force to monitor the extent to which that achieving the human capital goals in its strategy helps the Air Force achieve its programmatic goals.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

  3. Status: Open

    Comments: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.

    Recommendation: To help the Air Force in its effort to address UAS pilot shortfalls, and to help the Air Force ensure that it is poised to meet future needs for UAS pilots, the Secretary of Defense should direct the Secretary of the Air Force to explore the potential use of additional flexibilities that would enable it to increase the number of UAS pilots in its workforce.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

  4. Status: Open

    Comments: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.

    Recommendation: To help the Army in its effort to address UAS unit training shortfalls, and to help the Army identify challenges that UAS pilots face in completing their training, the Secretary of Defense should direct the Secretary of the Army to collect feedback from UAS pilots in UAS units, such as by surveying, or conducting focus groups with them.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

  5. Status: Open

    Comments: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.

    Recommendation: To help the Army in its effort to address UAS unit training shortfalls, and to help the Army identify challenges that UAS pilots face in completing their training, the Secretary of Defense should direct the Secretary of the Army to incorporate such feedback into the Army's strategy to address UAS training shortfalls.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

  6. Status: Open

    Comments: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.

    Recommendation: To help the Army in its effort to address UAS unit training shortfalls, and to help ensure that Army Shadow units meet minimum training requirements, the Secretary of Defense should direct the Secretary of the Army to revise its strategy to address UAS training shortfalls to ensure that it is fully tailored to address training issues and address factors such as lack of adequate facilities, lack of access to airspace, and the inability to fly more than one UAS at a time.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

  7. Status: Open

    Comments: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.

    Recommendation: To help the Army in its effort to address UAS unit training shortfalls, and to help the Army ensure that it is basing its decisions to select individuals for UAS pilot training on sound evidence and to help it take advantage of the key benefits associated with effective personnel selection that could include reducing training costs, improving job performance, improving retention of qualified personnel, enabling leadership development, and enhancing organizational effectiveness, the Secretary of Defense should direct the Secretary of the Army to validate that the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery is an effective predictor of UAS pilot candidate performance in UAS pilot training and job performance.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

  8. Status: Open

    Comments: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.

    Recommendation: To help the Army in its effort to address UAS unit training shortfalls, and to help the Army ensure that it is basing its decisions to select individuals for UAS pilot training on sound evidence and to help it take advantage of the key benefits associated with effective personnel selection that could include reducing training costs, improving job performance, improving retention of qualified personnel, enabling leadership development, and enhancing organizational effectiveness, the Secretary of Defense should direct the Secretary of the Army to assess existing research that has been performed that identifies UAS pilot competencies.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

  9. Status: Open

    Comments: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.

    Recommendation: To help the Army in its effort to address UAS unit training shortfalls, and to help the Army ensure that it is basing its decisions to select individuals for UAS pilot training on sound evidence and to help it take advantage of the key benefits associated with effective personnel selection that could include reducing training costs, improving job performance, improving retention of qualified personnel, enabling leadership development, and enhancing organizational effectiveness, the Secretary of Defense should direct the Secretary of the Army to incorporate relevant findings from such research into the Army's approach for selecting UAS pilot candidates, as appropriate.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

  10. Status: Open

    Comments: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.

    Recommendation: To help address personnel shortages and meet mission needs cost effectively, the Office of the Secretary of Defense, through the Under Secretary of Defense (Personnel & Readiness) should direct the Air Force and the Army to evaluate the workforce mix and the use of federal civilians for UAS pilot positions.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

  11. Status: Open

    Comments: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.

    Recommendation: To help address personnel shortages and meet mission needs cost effectively, the Office of the Secretary of Defense, through the Under Secretary of Defense (Personnel & Readiness) should direct the Air Force and the Army to conduct cost analyses consistent with DOD guidance to inform their workforce decisions and ensure cost effectiveness of the UAS pilot workforce mix.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

 

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