GAO-11-318SP: Defense: Opportunities exist to avoid unnecessary redundancies and maximize the efficient use of intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance capabilities


Opportunities exist to avoid unnecessary redundancies and maximize the efficient use of intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance capabilities

Why Area Is Important

To plan and execute military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, military commanders depend on intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) systems to collect, process, and disseminate timely and accurate information on adversaries' capabilities and vulnerabilities. The Department of Defense's (DOD) ISR enterprise consists of multiple intelligence organizations that individually plan for, acquire, and operate manned and unmanned airborne, space-borne, maritime, and ground-based ISR systems. The success of ISR systems at providing key information has led to increased demand, and DOD continues to invest in ISR programs. For example, DOD requested about $6.1 billion in fiscal year 2010 for unmanned aircraft programs alone. DOD is further examining its airborne ISR budget needs for fiscal year 2012 and beyond. Further, GAO has reported since 2005 that ISR activities are not integrated and efficient; effectiveness may be compromised by lack of visibility into operational use of ISR assets; and agencies could better collaborate in the acquisition of new capabilities.

What GAO Found

ISR activities cut across services and defense agencies, and no single entity at the departmental level has responsibility, authority, and control over investments to prioritize resources to meet joint priority requirements. The ISR enterprise exhibits extensive, structural fragmentation with a high number of separate organizations sharing the same roles. For example, multiple ISR organizations conduct strategic planning, budgeting, and data analysis across intelligence disciplines. Although DOD has designated the Under Secretary of Defense for Intelligence to manage ISR investments as a departmentwide portfolio, the Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology, and Logistics has been designated to lead the task force responsible for oversight of issues related to the management and acquisition of unmanned aircraft systems that collect ISR data. In addition, as the ISR portfolio manager, the Under Secretary of Defense for Intelligence has only advisory authority and cannot direct the services or agencies to make changes in their investment plans.

Further, two key factors make tracking DOD's ISR spending difficult. First, funding for DOD's ISR capabilities can come from several sources, including the Military Intelligence Program, the National Intelligence Program, and service budgets. Second, each service maintains or develops its own requirements process, budget, and strategic plans. For example, each service identifies its requirements and prioritizes spending for its equipment and personnel needs, and tracks and accounts for ISR funding differently.

The Secretary of Defense has identified ISR as an area of scrutiny for potential cost savings in the military intelligence program budget, which totals $27 billion in spending for fiscal year 2010 including ISR capabilities and personnel. In addition, the National Intelligence Program budget of $53.1 billion includes some resources for DOD ISR activities. Since 1988, GAO has reported on the potential for duplication and fragmentation in DOD's unmanned ISR systems. Service-driven requirements and funding processes continue to hinder integration and efficiency and contribute to unnecessary duplication in addressing warfighter needs. Although several unmanned aircraft systems have achieved some commonality among the airframes they use, most are pursuing service-unique subsystems and components. The lack of collaboration and commonality among the services has led to duplicative costs for designing and manufacturing ISR systems, and has resulted in inefficiencies in the contracting and acquisition processes. For example in 2005, the Army initiated a development program with the same contractor for a variant of the Air Force Predator estimated to cost nearly $570 million, although the Predator was already successfully providing capabilities to the warfighter. Similarly, in 2009 GAO reported that, although the Navy expected to save time and money by using the Air Force's existing Global Hawk airframe, the Navy also planned to spend over $3 billion to develop maritime surveillance capabilities. Conversely, the Marine Corps avoided the cost of initial system development and was able to quickly deliver a useful capability to the warfighter by choosing to procure existing Army Shadow systems rather than developing its own unmanned aircraft.

DOD has established numerous organizations and initiatives intended to integrate the determination of requirements, development, acquisition, and operation of ISR systems to address joint and service-specific needs, but these efforts have not had the desired effect of minimizing fragmentation and overlap in its ISR enterprise. For example, although the Under Secretary of Defense for Intelligence, as capability portfolio manager, updated the congressionally directed ISR Integration Roadmap, the Roadmap does not represent a comprehensive ISR architecture to guide service investments to meet joint needs. For example, the Roadmap does not enable comparison and tradeoffs between intelligence platforms and capabilities. In addition, the Joint Requirements Oversight Council, which is charged with validating requirements and approving proposals for new capabilities to meet joint capability gaps, has been generally ineffective in ensuring that the services collaborate in developing capabilities for joint requirements.

In 2010, the Joint Staff launched a decision support tool intended to catalog existing airborne ISR capabilities and validate new requirements. This tool could help DOD prioritize investments in new programs and make tradeoffs among capabilities that could result in cost savings, but it is uncertain whether the effort will receive funding for expanding the database to include other ISR assets and improve functionality. Meanwhile, DOD continues to invest in ISR capabilities that may not be the most efficient or effective use of resources. Further, although DOD has invested heavily in capabilities to collect ISR data, it has not invested proportionally in the capabilities that would enable it to process and use the information. Weaknesses in the military services' ability to process and securely share ISR data have led to gaps in or duplicative collection efforts and contributed to continuing warfighter demands for ISR assets to support their missions.

Actions Needed

DOD has taken steps to improve ISR management, but these actions have not had the desired effect. To develop a more fully integrated approach to minimizing fragmentation, overlap, and duplication in its ISR enterprise, DOD could align DOD-wide strategic goals, identify performance measures, and establish linkages between ISR acquisition plans and strategic goals to inform investment decisions.

Since 2005, GAO has identified challenges with DOD's ISR enterprise and made a number of recommendations to assist DOD in improving its ISR management and reducing unnecessary duplication and overlap. DOD has taken some positive steps to address GAO's recommendations, such as recent military service efforts to acquire some common unmanned aircraft and sensors and develop performance measures, but its efforts are limited and have not yet improved its ability to integrate ISR requirements generation, development and acquisition, or utilization. In keeping with GAO's previous recommendations, DOD could take several actions to develop a more fully integrated approach to minimize fragmentation, overlap, and duplication in its ISR enterprise. Specifically, DOD could do the following:

  • Develop an integrated ISR architecture, including manned and unmanned systems, to align DOD-wide strategic goals.
  • Continue to develop tools—such as the Joint Staff's decision support tool—and performance measures to inform investment decisions.
  • Establish linkages between ISR acquisition plans and strategic goals to better inform investment decisions.
  • Develop and enforce commonality and interoperability standards for sharing of ISR data and establish timelines for implementation.

Increased integration of DOD's ISR enterprise could improve efficiencies, reduce redundancies and avoid duplication of similar development initiatives, possibly saving production and life-cycle costs and improve the interoperability among systems. Although the department has begun to take some initial steps in this area, until all participants in the defense enterprise successfully share ISR information, inefficiencies will hamper the effectiveness of efforts to support the warfighter, and ISR data collection efforts may be unnecessarily duplicative. In addition, comprehensive data on its ISR enterprise, including resources and performance measures to assess the effectiveness of ISR assets, could better position DOD to make trade-offs among ISR capabilities.

Framework for Analysis

In addition to obtaining information from the reports listed under the "Related GAO Products" tab, GAO reviewed documentation related to DOD's funding for ISR through the Military Intelligence Program and analyzed planned ISR investments in DOD's Future Years Defense Program Fiscal Years 2012-2015. GAO also assessed the ISR Integration Roadmap against strategic planning and legislative criteria, and reviewed the Joint Staff's ISR assessment tool. In addition, GAO conducted interviews with officials from the offices of DOD's Under Secretary of Defense for Intelligence, the Joint Staff, the military services, the Defense Intelligence Agency, the National Geospatial Intelligence Agency, and the National Security Agency.

Area Contact

For additional information about this area, contact Davi M. D'Agostino at (202) 512-5431 or

Related GAO Products