An MQ-1C Sky Warrior unmanned aircraft system from sits in a hangar. (Sgt. Travis Zielinski / Army)
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The Army and Air Force have failed to collaborate on their unmanned aerial vehicle programs and "lack robust plans" for their rapidly growing UAV fleets, according to the government's watchdog agency.
The services' UAV programs moved ahead too fast to fully flesh out a game plan and coordinate efforts, the Government Accountability Office said in a report released March 26. Earlier in March, Michael Sullivan, GAO's acquisition director, told a House subcommittee that the Air Force and Army didn't talk to each other enough as they built their fleets.
The Defense Department's UAV inventory has skyrocketed from fewer than 50 UAVs in 2000 to more than 6,800 aircraft in October 2009. The Army had more than 4,300 UAVs in its inventory as of March, the majority of which are lightweight Raven models that are launched by hand.
Tim Owings, the Army's deputy program manager for unmanned aircraft systems, said UAVs are an integral part of the service's plans moving forward.
Accelerated deployment of UAVs has led to several problems, the GAO reports:
• The Air Force and Army have not collaborated when developing their respective Predator and Sky Warrior programs, which are similar aircraft built by the same contractor. The services probably lost potential savings because of this.
Owings said that the Predator and the Sky Warrior were approved by the Defense Department's Joint Requirements Oversight Council. He also emphasized that the Army has collaborated extensively with the Marine Corps and the Navy on unmanned programs.
• The Air Force and Army "have not yet fully developed plans to supply needed personnel." Army platoons in Iraq that operate the Shadow UAV have routinely worked 24-hour days for extended periods of time, according to GAO, which met with seven Shadow platoons when compiling its report.
Currently approved personnel levels for those platoons are based on a standard operating time of 12 hours per day, and a maximum of 16 hours. Army officials with those platoons also said personnel were not adequately trained when they arrived in Iraq or Afghanistan.
Owings said that is a problem the Army is working to address.
"Those units are overtaxed," he said.
• Both services' simulators also have limited capabilities: The Air Force's Reaper simulator is being fielded without weapons-release capabilities; the Army's Shadow simulator can't replicate systems upgrades that are sent directly to combat troops in the field, and also can't work in tandem with the Army's manned aviation simulator.
Owings said the simulator issue is also a priority for the Army, because linking unmanned and manned aircraft opens up new possibilities for the war fighter.
Sending UAVs out first means that Apache and Kiowa Warrior helicopters "are able to see things they could never see before and kill things they could never kill before," Owings said.