Key Issues > Duplication & Cost Savings > GAO's Action Tracker > Unmanned Aircraft Systems (2012-03)
defense icon, source: [West Covina, California] Progressive Management, 2008

Defense: Unmanned Aircraft Systems (2012-03)

Ineffective acquisition practices and collaboration efforts in the Department of Defense unmanned aircraft systems portfolio creates overlap and the potential for duplication among a number of current programs and systems.

Action:

To reduce the likelihood of overlap and potential duplication in its unmanned aircraft system (UAS) portfolio, the Department of Defense (DOD) should re-evaluate whether a single entity would be better positioned to integrate all crosscutting efforts to improve the management and operation of UAS.

Progress:

No executive action taken. As of January 2019, DOD had not re-evaluated whether a single entity or executive agent would be better positioned to integrate cross-cutting UAS efforts, as GAO recommended in November 2008. However, in a July 2016 letter to GAO addressing fragmentation, overlap, and duplication recommendations made between 2011 and 2016, DOD stated that advancements in UAS capabilities have resulted in a focus on better integrating UAS capabilities with manned systems and stated that the acquisition oversight of UAS programs has been reorganized into land, air, and naval warfare portfolios. According to DOD officials, this reorganization addresses concerns about  potential overlap and duplication among the military services' programs and systems.

Through recent legislation—the National Defense Authorization Acts for Fiscal Year 2016 and Fiscal Year 2018, respectively—Congress required that military service chiefs have a role in balancing resources, priorities, and associated trade-offs. Congress also generally decentralized oversight of major defense acquisition programs to the individual military services. In this new environment, a centralized departmental entity that oversees UAS acquisition and operations is no longer consistent with congressional directives for the department. Therefore, GAO is no longer assessing the implementation of this action.

Action:

To reduce the likelihood of overlap and potential duplication in its unmanned aircraft system (UAS) portfolio, the Department of Defense (DOD) should consider an objective, independent examination of current UAS portfolio requirements and the methods for acquiring future unmanned aircraft, including strategies for making these systems more common, to ensure the best return on every dollar it invests.

Progress:

DOD has conducted several examinations related to UAS requirements, as GAO suggested in February 2012 based on findings in its July 2009 report, and the military services are identifying opportunities for commonality in the UAS portfolio. For example, according to DOD officials, in 2015 and 2016, the Air Force worked with the Navy to establish government-owned and government-operated depot maintenance repair capabilities for a sensor that operates on MQ-9 Reaper, as well as other unmanned aircraft systems. As part of this effort, the Navy performed an analysis of common reparable parts among the sensor’s different variants, improving commonality across the military services for sustainment of the sensor. According to DOD officials, the Air Force is completing installation of an Army system that provides sense-and-avoid capabilities at one location, and it is beginning installation of the system at two additional locations. DOD officials also stated that the Air Force is expected to complete activities in fiscal year 2017 to establish a depot for Global Hawk engines that will also be used by the Navy’s Triton engine variant.

As of March 2017, DOD officials stated that the department reviews warfare system portfolios—including the intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance portfolio, which includes unmanned aircraft systems—annually to ensure that the department’s warfighting requirements are adequately resourced. DOD has made progress in identifying opportunities for commonality and is leveraging common facilities for equipment repair and other sustainment activities. DOD plans to initiate only one new UAS major acquisition program, the Navy’s MQ-25A Stingray program, which is scheduled to begin program development in 2018. The Navy plans to incorporate an architecture into the MQ-25A Stingray’s design that is common with other Navy UASs. With these efforts, DOD is working to introduce more commonality into existing and future UASs.

Implementing Entity:

Department of Defense

Action:

To reduce the likelihood of overlap and potential duplication in its unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) portfolio, the Department of Defense (DOD) should, prior to initiating future unmanned aircraft programs, direct the military services to identify and document in their acquisition plans and strategies specific areas where commonality can be achieved, take an open systems approach to product development, conduct a quantitative analysis that examines the costs and benefits of various levels of commonality, and establish a collaborative approach and management framework to periodically assess and effectively manage commonality.

Progress:

DOD has taken actions as GAO suggested in February 2012 based on findings in its July 2009 report to reduce the likelihood of overlap and potential duplication in its unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) portfolio. In 2010, DOD established integrated product teams as a part of the UAS Task Force to address commonality and interoperability among UAS programs. In addition, DOD’s key acquisition policy—reissued in 2015—and its most recent Better Buying Power guidance direct program managers to apply open-systems approaches in product designs where feasible and cost effective, which, according to DOD officials, is a key enabler for increased commonality among unmanned aircraft systems. In addition, DOD has developed a UAS control segment architecture, which includes an online repository of reusable services and applications available for download to suit individual UAS program needs. In July 2015, DOD approved the public release of the UAS control segment architecture and transitioned oversight to an international standards organization.

According to DOD officials, the Navy’s common control system for its unmanned aircraft systems leverages capabilities from DOD’s UAS control segment. In addition, the Navy plans to incorporate open systems standards and will leverage the common control system architecture for its MQ-25A Stingray program, which is scheduled to begin in 2018. DOD has taken steps to increase commonality among UAS programs by including an open systems approach in its current acquisition policy and guidance. In addition, DOD developed a joint architecture that UAS programs can leverage, as needed. Finally, the Navy’s plans to incorporate open systems standards and other open systems principles in its MQ-25A Stingray program demonstrates that the department has prioritized open systems planning when considering new acquisition programs. This can lead to greater efficiency and less redundancy among DOD’s UASs.

Implementing Entity:

Department of Defense
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    • Michael J. Sullivan
    • Director, Contracting and National Security Acquisitions
    • sullivanm@gao.gov
    • (202) 512-4841