Status of the Remotely Piloted Aircraft Programs

PSAD-77-30: Published: Feb 18, 1977. Publicly Released: Feb 18, 1977.

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In the next 5 years, about $700 million will be spent on remotely piloted vehicles (RPV), primarily for two Air Force projects--Compass Cope and Multimission--and one Army RPV--Aquila. These are being developed because Department of Defense officials believe RPVs are able to perform high-risk and politically sensitive missions more practically and inexpensively than piloted aircraft. Compass Cope is a large, high-altitude, long-range RPV, which is being developed at a cost of $160 million. The multimission RPV, called BGM-34C, medium-sized and shortrange, is being developed to replace single-mission, electronic warfare and reconnaissance RPVs. An advanced RPV is also being planned to replace the BGM-34C. The Army's Aquila RPV is being developed to demonstrate the use of small RPVs for tactical surveillance and target identification.

The Compass Cope is in the developmental stage, but production is planned for 1981, if funds are available. The Defense Systems Acquisition Review Council, which is supposed to review all major new systems three times during development, has not reviewed Compass Cope. The Tactical Air Command, primary user of this RPV, has questioned the need for it, indicating that existing aircraft can do the task as well and as cheaply. Compass Cope may also have air-rights flyover problems, but the countries involved and the Air Force think the problem can be solved, possibly by onboard sensors to avoid collisions. Half of the test flights of the BGM-34C have resulted in missed midair retrieval, because of parachure failure, but the damage has been minor. Preliminary performance tests show the BGM-34C to fly faster and higher, and carry more than the RPVs it will replace. Preliminary cost studies indicate that the BGM-34C is comparable to the RPVs it is replacing. Development of its replacement is scheduled for 1980. After initial testing failures, the Army's Aquila was modified and has been successfully tested, including seven automatic launch and recovery flights. Testing with TV camera, laser and other equipment has not been completed.

Recommendation for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed

    Comments: Please call 202/512-6100 for additional information.

    Recommendation: The Defense Systems Acquisition Review Council should review the Compass Cope program and other RPV programs to provide the three services involved in their development with the benefit of such reviews. Determination should be made as to the need for Compass Cope and whether it is cost effective since there are existing aircraft to perform its functions. The issue of potential flight restrictions should be resolved. Because of problems encountered and the planned use of Aquila with Army weapons, the basic concepts, such as launch and recovery, should be proven before the program is allowed to proceed further.

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