Unmanned Aerial Vehicles:

Realistic Testing Needed Before Production of Short-Range System

NSIAD-90-234: Published: Sep 28, 1990. Publicly Released: Sep 28, 1990.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO reviewed the Department of Defense's (DOD) strategy for acquiring the Short-Ranged Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) system, focusing on a comparison between DOD acquisition strategies for UAV and a previously procured system that encountered problems when deployed with the Navy's operational forces.

GAO found that DOD: (1) planned to perform operational testing before beginning low-rate UAV production, but the tester system would not incorporate those features necessary to operate in a naval environment; (2) planned to begin full-rate UAV production before verifying that it could be modified to meet Navy requirements; (3) planned to test UAV in an environment not representative of deployment conditions, which could place DOD at risk of becoming committed to system production based on test results that might not be a valid indicator of the system's capability; (4) planned an acquisition strategy for the UAV system that was similar to the previous strategy, which resulted in its spending $160 million for a system that did not meet performance requirements, and demonstrated the difficulties in adapting UAV for naval use and the need for timely testing; and (5) agreed to correct other shortcomings in the planned UAV system test program.

Matter for Congressional Consideration

  1. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: The Navy Variant Program has been cancelled. GAO is now performing congressionally requested follow-up review.

    Matter: Congress may wish to consider whether the congressional intent for a joint service system is jeopardized by the substantial risk that the Navy variant will be unsuitable, and, if so, Congress may wish to prohibit full-rate production of UAV until performance of the Navy variant is proven to be satisfactory.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: DOD officials now state that they only intend to deploy the short range UAV to areas which are similar to the planned test location. They specifically rule out moist, tropical environments as primary deployment locations. A second test location is going to be added to provide a more diverse environment for testing, as well. Hence, DOD officials believe the test plan is now realistic.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Defense should require that operational testing of UAV be conducted in diverse, realistic environments to provide reasonable assurance that it will meet requirements before permitting limited production of the land-based UAV system.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The Navy variant of the system has been withdrawn from the program. Also, a new test plan was approved by the Director of Operational Testing and Evaluation indicating that DOD believes all test plan shortcomings have been addressed. No further action is required.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Defense should limit UAV system production until satisfactory performance of the Navy variant is demonstrated and ensure that actions are taken to correct the other shortcomings noted in the planned test program.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense


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