Defense Acquisitions: Opportunities Exist to Achieve Greater Commonality and Efficiencies among Unmanned Aircraft Systems

GAO-09-520 Published: Jul 30, 2009. Publicly Released: Jul 30, 2009.
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From 2008 through 2013, the Department of Defense (DOD) plans to invest over $16 billion to develop and procure additional unmanned aircraft systems. To more effectively leverage its acquisition resources, DOD recognizes that it must achieve greater commonality among the military services' unmanned aircraft programs. Doing so, however, requires certain trade-offs and complex budget, cost, and schedule interactions. GAO was asked to assess the progress of selected unmanned aircraft acquisition programs, examine the extent to which the services are collaborating and identifying commonality among those programs, and identify key factors impacting the effectiveness their collaboration. GAO analyzed cost, schedule, and performance data for eight unmanned aircraft systems--accounting for over 80 percent of DOD's total planned investment in unmanned aircraft systems from 2008 through 2013--and two payload programs.

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Recommendations for Executive Action

Agency Affected Recommendation Status
Department of Defense To more effectively leverage resources and increase the efficiency in unmanned aircraft system acquisition programs, the Secretary of Defense should direct a rigorous and comprehensive analysis of the requirements for current unmanned aircraft programs, develop a strategy for making systems and subsystems among those programs more common, and report the findings of this analysis to Congress. At a minimum, this analysis should quantify the costs and benefits of alternative approaches, identify specific actions that need to be taken, and summarize the status of DOD's various ongoing unmanned aircraft-related studies.
Closed – Not Implemented
Since the issuance of our report in July 2009, DOD has not conducted a comprehensive analysis examining requirements for the entire unmanned aircraft system (UAS) portfolio or strategies for making the systems more common; however DOD has conducted several limited examinations and has made some progress in these areas. For example, according to DOD officials, the Air Force has established government-owned and government-operated depot maintenance repair capabilities and the Army is leveraging the Air Force's infrastructure for its own unmanned aircraft maintenance. The Air Force and Navy continue to look for ways to establish synergies in depot activities for the Global Hawk and Triton unmanned aircraft systems, including a shared obsolescence and parts management strategy for the two programs. DOD officials further stated that, in 2014, the Air Force evaluated common equipment and requirements for sense-and-avoid capabilities, including a system developed by the Army. The Air Force is in the process of installing this equipment at three locations. DOD has also conducted limited examinations of requirements, including a 2-year assessment of specific mission areas to determine if planned and current capabilities--including both manned and unmanned systems--are sufficient to achieve validated requirements, and a strategic portfolio review of its intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance force structure and capabilities, including space and airborne assets, which will be used to inform future studies. In addition, DOD has provided several reports to Congress related to coordination and commonality for UAS, including a 2013 report on overcoming challenges for UAS through cross-service coordination, and a 2014 report on DOD's use of common ground control station architecture. DOD is making progress in achieving commonality among ground control stations with its common ground control station architecture, including the development of an online repository of reusable services and applications available for download to suit individual UAS program needs. However, GAO work has found that DOD has not necessarily made progress in commonality among aircraft or payloads. We are closing this recommendation as not implemented because DOD has not undertaken a comprehensive analysis of its UAS programs, including the costs and benefits of alternative approaches and specific actions that need to be taken to make its UAS programs more common.
Department of Defense To more effectively leverage resources and increase the efficiency in unmanned aircraft system acquisition programs, and prior to initiating any new unmanned aircraft program, the Secretary of Defense should require 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.
Closed – Implemented
In 2011, DOD issued its Unmanned Systems Integrated Roadmap (FY2011-2036) that emphasized the need to establish a complementary relationship between manned and unmanned capabilities while optimizing commonality and interoperability across space, air, ground, and maritime domains. In addition, the Roadmap emphasized the need to leverage open architecture and open interfaces to help achieve modularity, commonality, and interchangeability across payloads, control systems, video/audio interfaces, data, and communications links. DOD acknowledges that this openness will enhance competition, lower life-cycle costs, and provide warfighters with enhanced unmanned capabilities that enable commonality and joint interoperability on the battlefield. In the case of the Unmanned Carrier Launched Airborne Surveillance and Strike (UCLASS) aircraft development program, the Navy has emphasized that it is taking an open architecture approach and pursuing subsystems that are common with other aircraft. In addition, the Navy is also pursuing a non-proprietary, scalable, open-architecture solution for unmanned air systems, known as the Common Control Station (CCS), that it believes will facilitate interoperability, usability, and commonality, and reduce development and sustainment costs. DOD's added emphasis on commonality, its stated plan to pursue open architecture and open interfaces in all areas of unmanned systems, along with the Navy's efforts to pursue commonality and open architecture in the UCLASS and CCS programs, meet the intent of our recommendation.

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