Defense Acquisitions:

Greater Synergies Possible for DOD's Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance Systems

GAO-07-578: Published: May 17, 2007. Publicly Released: May 17, 2007.

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The Department of Defense (DOD) is experiencing a growing demand for intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) assets to provide vital information in support of military operations. Over the next 7 years, DOD plans to invest over $28 billion in existing and new airborne ISR acquisition systems. This represents a marked increase over prior ISR investments. Given the significant investments, GAO was asked to (1) evaluate various ISR platforms for potential synergies and assess their cost and schedule status and the impact of any increases or delays on legacy systems and (2) assess the effectiveness of ISR investment decisions. To assess cost and schedule status, we reviewed programmatic and budget documentation. To evaluate investment decisions, we collected information on system capability, mission, and concept of operation and analyzed the data for similarities.

DOD plans to invest over $28 billion over the next 7 years to develop, procure, and modernize 20 major airborne intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance systems. Nearly all of the systems in development have experienced cost growth or schedule delays. These problems have delayed the fielding of a warfighting capability and have resulted in program restructuring, cancellation, or unplanned investments in older legacy ISR systems. For example, problems in developing the Aerial Common Sensor affected three legacy programs, increasing their collective budgets by 185 percent, or nearly $900 million. In many cases, GAO found that the newer ISR programs lacked a solid business case or a knowledge-based acquisition strategy before entering the development process. A good business case requires the manager to match the system requirements with mature technologies and a system design that can be built. This requires sufficient knowledge about the system gained through basic system engineering concepts and practices. Although it fights jointly, DOD does not always procure new systems jointly. Instead, each service typically develops and procures systems independently. Opportunities exist for different services to collaborate on the development of similar weapon systems as a means for creating a more efficient and affordable way of providing new capabilities to the warfighter. GAO identified development programs where program managers and services are working together to gain these efficiencies and other programs that have less collaborative efforts and could lead to more costly stovepiped solutions. For example, the Navy and Army have collaborated successfully on the Fire Scout, but in contrast, the Air Force and Army have not been as collaborative on the Predator and Warrior systems, as they each currently plan unique solutions to their similar needs.

Status Legend:

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  • Review Pending-GAO has not yet assessed implementation status.
  • Open-Actions to satisfy the intent of the recommendation have not been taken or are being planned, or actions that partially satisfy the intent of the recommendation have been taken.
  • Closed-implemented-Actions that satisfy the intent of the recommendation have been taken.
  • Closed-not implemented-While the intent of the recommendation has not been satisfied, time or circumstances have rendered the recommendation invalid.
    • Review Pending
    • Open
    • Closed - implemented
    • Closed - not implemented

    Recommendations for Executive Action

    Recommendation: While DOD has numerous ISR studies, either recently completed or ongoing, there have been no substantive actions recently implemented to gain greater jointness in ISR acquisition programs. Therefore, DOD should develop and implement an integrated enterprise-level investment strategy approach that is based on a joint assessment of warfighting needs and a full set of potential and viable alternative solutions, considering cross-service solutions including new acquisitions and modifications to legacy systems within realistic and affordable budget projections for DOD. This strategy should draw on the results of ongoing studies, like the portfolio management pilot program, but should include the necessary authority and controls needed to ensure a single point of accountability for resource decisions.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In February 2010, the Office of the Undersecretary of Defense for Intelligence released the second Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance (ISR) Roadmap. This latest version included a funding profile for some of the capabilities.

    Recommendation: While DOD has numerous ISR studies, either recently completed or ongoing, there have been no substantive actions recently implemented to gain greater jointness in ISR acquisition programs. Therefore, DOD should report to the defense committees by August 1, 2007, the results of the ISR studies and identify the specific plans and actions needed and intended to make joint acquisition decisions in ISR programs and improve the way it plans, buys, organizes, manages, and executes its ISR acquisition programs and operations.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

    Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: DOD concurred with the recommendation but non-concurred with the date GAO proposed and suggested delaying the date by four months. The Air Force issued its 2008 Strategy for United States Air Force Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance in July 2008. The strategy describes an overarching plan for integrating people, equipment, processes, and investments within the Air Force. With regard to investment, the plan calls for increasing investments in 14 capabilities, decreasing investments in one capability, and maintaining level investments in three capabilities. The plan does not tie dollar amounts to named systems. In December 2008, the Defense Science Board issued its Final Report of the Joint Defense Science Board (DSB) and Intelligence Science Board (ISB) Task Force on Integrating Sensor-Collected Intelligence. The report had two recommendations designed to improve access to the data already available from myriad ISR assets. The DODIG and OSD (AT&L) were not able to determine whether the reports were provided to the defense committees. Furthermore, neither report included specific plans and actions to facilitate joint acquisitions or improve the way DOD executes its ISR acquisition programs. Therefore, this recommendation should be closed, but not implemented.

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