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Unmanned Aerial Vehicles: Questionable Basis for Revisions to Shadow 200 Acquisition Strategy

Unmanned Aerial Vehicles: Questionable Basis for Revisions to Shadow 200 Acquisition Strategy

Source: United States General Accounting Office, Washington, D.C. 20548, National Security and International Affairs Division B-285860. September 26, 2000. Report to the Chairman, Subcommittee on Military Research and Development, Committee on Armed Services, House of Representatives. 26 September 2000. 13 pages plus 3 appendices (5 pp. pdf format) Full text.

Letter from Louis J. Rodrigues, Director, to The Honorable Curt Weldon, Chairman, Subcommittee on Military Research and Development, Committee on Armed Services, House of Representatives:

Dear Mr. Chairman:

The Army plans to buy 44 Shadow 200 tactical unmanned aerial vehicle systems. Each system includes three unmanned aircraft (equipped with an imagery sensor 1 ); a vehicle to carry the aircraft; two ground control stations mounted on vehicles; and launch, recovery, and support equipment pulled on trailers behind the vehicles. From inside the ground control station, soldiers operating the unmanned aircraft will fly them over hostile or contested territory, collecting imagery of areas of interest for Army commanders so they can detect, identify, and locate enemy forces. The acquisition cost, including research and development costs, for the 44 systems is an estimated $430 million through 2004.

Because the Army does not currently have enough unmanned aerial vehicle systems to meet its requirements, it devised an acquisition strategy in 1999 focused on procuring and fielding the Shadow 200 system as quickly as possible. The Army’s strategy called for acquiring a system that incorporated mature technologies,2 which will be integrated and demonstrated before the Army commits to full-rate production.3 The Army’s acquisition strategy also included the low-rate initial production of four Shadow 200 systems to be used in developmental and operational testing.4 After evaluating the developmental and operational test results, the Army plans to decide in September 2001 whether to begin full-rate production of the Shadow 200 system.

To field systems more quickly, the Army revised its Shadow 200 acquisition strategy in March 2000 by planning to increase the number of low-rate initial production systems from four to eight. The decision to produce these four additional systems would be made in February 2001–2 months before operational testing and 7 months ahead of the scheduled full-rate production decision. As you requested, we have assessed whether the Army made a sound decision in revising its acquisition strategy. You also expressed an interest in the extent to which the Army has incorporated lessons learned from previous experience and from Kosovo/Operation Allied Force into its Shadow 200 program.5 This information is provided in appendix I.

Results in Brief The Army has a questionable basis for revising its acquisition strategy to procure four additional Shadow 200 systems in February 2001 before operational testing is conducted. In contrast, the Army’s original strategy, which would prove system capabilities before producing additional systems, was sound. Among its reasons to justify the revision, the Army contends that accelerating the program will enable it to field a much needed capability sooner. Also, the Army believes that risk associated with additional production prior to operational testing is substantially mitigated by significant developmental and other testing that is planned. We are concerned that the Army cannot know whether the Shadow 200 system will be operationally effective before operational testing takes place. Our previous reviews of other unmanned aerial vehicle programs have shown that buying systems before successfully completing testing has repeatedly led to defective systems that were later terminated or required costly redesign and retrofit to achieve satisfactory performance.

This report recommends that the Army not buy four additional systems until after operational testing is completed. The Department of Defense disagreed with us and stated that the risk associated with procuring these additional systems prior to operational testing is minimal. We continue to believe that the Army should not buy the additional systems because only operational testing of the system in a realistic combat environment can show whether the overall system will meet the Army’s operational needs. If the Army does not implement our recommendation, we believe the Congress should consider directing it to do so.

Louis J. Rodrigues



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Directeur de la publication : Joël-François Dumont
Comité de rédaction : Jacques de Lestapis, Hugues Dumont, François de Vries (Bruxelles), Hans-Ulrich Helfer (Suisse), Michael Hellerforth (Allemagne).
Comité militaire : VAE Guy Labouérie (†), GAA François Mermet (2S), CF Patrice Théry (Asie).