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Highlights

The Department of Defense (DOD) plans to invest $109 billion in its tactical air forces between 2007 and 2013. Long term, DOD plans to replace aging legacy aircraft with fewer, more expensive but more capable and stealthy aircraft. Recapitalizing and modernizing tactical air forces within today's constrained budget environment is a formidable challenge. DOD has already incurred substantial cost and schedule overruns in its acquisition of new systems, and further delays could require billions of dollars in additional investments to keep legacy aircraft capable and sustainable. Because of the large investments and risk, GAO was asked to review investment planning for tactical aircraft. This report describes the current status of DOD's new tactical aircraft acquisition programs; identifies current impacts on legacy aircraft modernization programs and retirement schedules; and assesses DOD's overall investment plan for tactical aircraft.

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Recommendations

Recommendations for Executive Action

Agency Affected Recommendation Status
Department of Defense In order to recapitalize and sustain capable and sufficient tactical air forces that reflect what is needed and affordable from a joint service perspective and that has high confidence of being executed as planned, the Secretary of Defense should take decisive actions to shorten cycle times in delivering needed combat capabilities to the warfighter including adopting a time-certain development cycle that can deliver an increment of new capability within 5 to 6 years after the start of system design and development, and reassessing requirements for ongoing weapon system acquisition programs to identify ways to reduce requirements and speed up delivery of initial capabilities.
Closed - Implemented
Since this report was issued, DOD has implemented a series of actions to shorten cycle times, reduce requirements, and speed up delivery of capabilities to the warfighter. These actions include (1) further revisions to the 5000-series defense acquisition regulations; (2) the 2009 Weapon Systems Acquisition Reform Act; (3) rapid acquisition initiatives by the Joint Staff; (4) a series of OSD directives; and (5) the 2010 and 2011 aircraft investment plans. Collectively, these actions move the Department in the direction we recommended, not only for tactical aircraft but for all defense systems acquisitions. We are therefore closing this recommendation as implemented.
Department of Defense In order to recapitalize and sustain capable and sufficient tactical air forces that reflect what is needed and affordable from a joint service perspective and that has high confidence of being executed as planned, the Secretary of Defense should develop an integrated enterprise-level investment strategy that is based on a joint assessment of warfighting needs and a full set of potential and viable alternative solutions, considering not only new acquisitions but also modifications to legacy aircraft to achieve this balance within realistic and affordable budget projections for DOD; strikes a balance between maintaining near-term readiness and addressing long-term needs; and considers the contributions of bombers, long range strike aircraft, unmanned aircraft, missiles, and other weapons currently in the inventory and those planned that can be employed to attack the same type targets as the tactical aircraft.
Closed - Implemented
In February 2010, DOD issued a report that included plans to address most of the issues outlined in GAO's April 2007 report (GAO-07-415) on tactical aircraft investments. In this report, DOD included aviation plans for capabilities needed to meet current and projected national security objectives, the potential role or use of unmanned aircraft, bombers, and other platforms, and an assessment by the Secretary of Defense of the extent to which the combined aviation forces of the Departments of the Air Force and Navy meet the national security requirements.

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