Unmanned Aircraft Systems:

Advance Coordination and Increased Visibility Needed to Optimize Capabilities

GAO-07-836: Published: Jul 11, 2007. Publicly Released: Jul 11, 2007.

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Combatant commanders carrying out ongoing operations rank the need for intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) capabilities as high on their priority lists. The Department of Defense (DOD) is investing in many ISR systems, including unmanned aircraft systems (UAS), to meet the growing demand for ISR assets to support the warfighter. GAO was asked to evaluate DOD's efforts to integrate UAS into ongoing operations while optimizing the use of all DOD ISR assets. Specifically, this report addresses the extent that (1) DOD has taken steps to facilitate the integration of UAS into combat operations, and (2) DOD's approach to allocating and tasking its ISR assets considers all available ISR capabilities, including those provided by UAS. GAO also reviewed the extent that DOD evaluates the performance of its ISR assets, including UAS, in meeting warfighters' needs. To perform this work, GAO analyzed data and guidance on the use of ISR assets, and interviewed DOD officials, including those supporting ongoing operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.

DOD components have developed guidance to facilitate the integration of UAS into combat operations; however, further steps are needed to coordinate the deployment of these assets. For example, DOD developed guidance for the tactical employment of UAS and a Joint UAS Concept of Operations. This guidance is an important first step but does not address coordinating UAS and other ISR assets prior to deploying them to ongoing operations, which U.S. Central Command recognized is a critical factor in integrating UAS into combat operations. Until DOD addresses the need for DOD-wide advance coordination, it may continue to face challenges in successfully integrating UAS and other ISR assets into combat operations and may exacerbate integration challenges such as limited bandwidth. DOD's approach to allocating and tasking its ISR assets, including UAS, hinders its ability to optimize the use of these assets because it does not consider the capabilities of all available ISR assets. The command charged with recommending how theater-level DOD ISR assets should be allocated to support operational requirements does not have awareness of all available ISR assets because DOD does not have a mechanism for obtaining this information. Similarly, the commander responsible for coordinating ongoing joint air operations does not have information on how assets controlled by tactical units are being used or what missions they've been tasked to support. Nor do tactical units have information on how theater-level assets and ISR assets embedded in other units are being tasked, which results in problems such as duplicative taskings. This lack of visibility occurs because DOD does not have a mechanism for tracking the missions both theater- and tactical-level ISR assets are supporting or how they are being used. Without an approach to allocation and tasking that includes a mechanism for considering all ISR capabilities, DOD may be unable to fully leverage all available ISR assets and optimize their use. DOD is unable to fully evaluate the performance of its ISR assets because it lacks a complete set of metrics and does not consistently receive feedback to ensure the warfighter's needs were met. Although the Joint Functional Component Command for ISR has been tasked with developing ISR metrics, DOD currently assesses its ISR missions with limited quantitative metrics such as the number of targets planned versus captured. While these metrics are a good start, DOD officials acknowledge that the current metrics do not capture all of the qualitative considerations associated with measuring ISR asset effectiveness such as the cumulative knowledge provided by numerous ISR missions. There is an ongoing effort within DOD to develop additional quantitative as well as qualitative ISR metrics, but no DOD-wide milestones have been established. Furthermore, DOD guidance calls for an evaluation of the results of joint operations; however, DOD officials acknowledge that this feedback is not consistently occurring due to the fast pace of operations in theater. Without metrics and feedback, DOD may not be able to validate how well the warfighters' needs are being met, whether it is optimizing the use of existing assets, or which new systems would best support warfighting 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: To improve DOD's ability to evaluate the performance of its ISR missions, the Secretary of Defense should develop a process for systematically capturing feedback from intelligence and operations communities to assess how effective ISR assets are in meeting warfighters' requirements.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In January 2009 DOD integrated into its Intelligence Assessment Tool post-mission summaries enabling the intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) assessment tool to track metrics such as number of targets planned and collected and number of hours flown per unmanned aircraft system mission. Additionally, the tool allows users to determine the operational effects of missions and provides data on which missions ISR platforms are being used to support and what the outcomes of those missions are.

    Recommendation: To improve DOD's ability to evaluate the performance of its ISR missions, the Secretary of Defense should establish DOD-wide milestones for development of qualitative and quantitative metrics.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In late 2008, the U.S. Joint Forces Command Joint UAS Center of Excellence was the office tasked to develop Joint UAS operational measures of effectiveness. As such, in June 2009, the Center issued a report on UAS full motion video measures of effectiveness, which identified specific performance indicators to optimize joint UAS employment for operations. As a result, DOD has identified indicators to better inform commanders and other decision makers about UAS performance in joint operations.

    Recommendation: To ensure DOD has the information needed to consider all ISR assets when allocating and tasking these assets, the Secretary of Defense should develop a mechanism for allowing users at all levels within DOD to gain real-time situational awareness on where DOD ISR assets are operating and, where not prohibited by the mission, what they are being used to do.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In June 2008, DOD implemented a classified system, the Reconnaissance Operations Management Enterprise (ROME), to provide greater visibility to ISR assets. ROME contains all scheduling and availability of intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) assets as well as readiness. In August 2008, DOD issued a classified Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Instruction that includes guidance for reporting using this system.

    Recommendation: To ensure DOD has the information needed to consider all ISR assets when allocating and tasking these assets, the Secretary of Defense should develop a mechanism for obtaining information on all ISR assets, including all DOD, national, and allied assets, operating in each of the combatant commanders' area of operations.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In June 2008, DOD implemented a classified system, the Reconnaissance Operations Management Enterprise, to provide greater visibility to intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) assets. In August 2008, DOD issued a classified Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Instruction that includes guidance for reporting using this system. As a result, DOD should have greater visibility into all ISR assets operating in each of the combatant commanders' areas of operations and DOD should be better able to fully optimize their use.

    Recommendation: To mitigate challenges in integrating UAS, and other ISR assets, into combat operations, the Secretary of Defense should, in conjunction with the service secretaries and combatant commanders, establish a mechanism to ensure the services comply with these requirements.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: DOD states that the plan for communicating requirements and a mechanism for compliance is currently in use that satisfies the recommendation.

    Recommendation: To mitigate challenges in integrating UAS, and other ISR assets, into combat operations, the Secretary of Defense should, in conjunction with the service secretaries and combatant commanders, develop a plan for communicating those requirements throughout DOD.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The Joint Capabilities Requirement Manager (JCRM) has a detailed requirements manager section and is the DOD-wide method for coordinating intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) requirements. JCRM is intended to provide the minimum data elements required by combatant commanders and to collect and communicate user inputs and requirements via workshops.

    Recommendation: To mitigate challenges in integrating UAS, and other ISR assets, into combat operations, the Secretary of Defense should, in conjunction with the service secretaries and combatant commanders, establish DOD-wide requirements for coordinating with the combatant commanders in advance of bringing UAS into the theater of operations.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: DOD agreed that a more standardized method could improve efficiency of the coordination process. DOD stated that the Joint Functional Component Commander for intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) and the Joint Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) Center of Excellence share in developing capabilities that will enable greater awareness of UAS availability and tasking. Further, the Joint Capabilities Requirement Manager (JCRM) has a detailed requirements manager section and is the DOD-wide method for coordinating ISR requirements. JCRM is intended to provide the minimum data elements required by combatant commanders and to collect user inputs and requirements via workshops.

    Recommendation: To improve DOD's ability to evaluate the performance of its ISR missions, the Secretary of Defense should create a mechanism to ensure this information is used to inform DOD's acquisition, allocation, and tasking of its ISR assets.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: For allocation and tasking, there is a satisfaction/feedback "workbench" in place within the Planning tool for Resource Integration, Synchronization and Management (PRISM) collection management tool. DOD noted that its primary challenge is educating and training its ISR community that the mechanism exists. In response, beginning in February 2008, each Military Service school house began incorporating training for PRISM as part of their formal curricula. In addition, other intelligence training has focused on utilizing PRISM. Also, PRISM is directly tied to new ISR allocation and assessment tools which share common requirements, satisfaction, platform and sensor data.

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