By BEN FREEMAN
As part of Sunshine Week, a national initiative to highlight the importance of open government and freedom of information, POGO is releasing a host documents obtained by the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). Read more about POGO's plans for Sunshine Week here.
The Department of Defense (DoD) Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology, and Logistics (AT&L) is responsible for providing Congress with Selected Acquisition Reports (SAR) for major weapons programs. By tracking cost and performance objectives, these SARs indicate whether taxpayers are getting bang for their buck. Most taxpayers never see SARs unfortunately, because they are not typically made available to the public. However, through a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request, POGO obtained SARs for the Reaper and Global Hawk drones, and is making those documents publicly available for the first time.
The Reaper drone is a multi-mission unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV), capable of reconnaissance intelligence and surveillance missions, though it is best known for its use a hunter-killer—tracking and eliminating enemy targets. Its use in Iraq, Afghanistan, and other countries has not been without controversy.
According to the SAR: “The program is in concurrent capability development, procurement, combat operations and support.” This concurrency was the result of the Reaper’s “urgent beginnings” following the attacks of September 11, 2001.
Thus, the Reaper was in use long before a number of development and testing milestones were obtained. According to the report:
Since the last SAR, the program office conducted both the Preliminary and Critical Design Reviews (PDR/CDR) on the Reaper Block 5. This stabilized the Block 5 design and began the integration and test phase of the program. The Air Force Technical Airworthiness Authority signed the Initial Tailored Airworthiness Certification Criteria (TACC) for the Reaper. The approved TACC establishes the initial airworthiness certification basis for the Reaper
While the SAR reported on December 31, 2010 that “
there are no significant software issues with the program at this time,” just ten months later, Wired reported that a computer virus in the Predator and Reaper drones was “logging pilots’ every keystroke as they remotely fly missions over Afghanistan and other warzones.”
And this wasn’t the only problem with the Reaper that the SAR failed to report. Given the Reaper’s high crash rate and limited operational availability, it’s curious to note that in the “Performance” section of the SAR, the current estimates of all capabilities are identical to the baseline objectives. And, by identical, I mean literally word-for-word. For instance, the current estimate for the “Hunter” characteristic is, “The system’s capability must allow a targeting solution at the weapon’s maximum range.” Instead of indicating whether or not there actually is a targeting solution, this simply echoes the baseline objective.
These aren’t inconsequential omissions given the cost of this program. According to the SAR, the 399 Reapers scheduled to be built are estimated to cost taxpayers approximately $31.3 million each and $12.496 billion in total, which is $662 million more than initial estimates. The SAR also reports that the planes will cost $18.221 billion to operate over the life-cycle of the program and that the Reaper program, in total, will cost taxpayers more than $30 billion.
According to the Global Hawk SAR, the plane breached Acquisition Program Baselines (APB) in schedule, performance, RDT&E (Research, Development, Test, and Evaluation), procurement, and unit cost. Additionally, the average program unit cost (APUC) led to a critical Nunn-McCurdy breach (i.e. cost increased by more than 25 percent). Incidentally, the Air Force recently announced plans to terminate the Global Hawk.
The SAR indicates that the Global Hawk was not meeting the majority of its performance baselines. For instance, mission planning was taking over 16 hours—twice the performance objective. Also, a sensor system known as the “electro-optical spot mode” had an objective range of 80 kilometers, but currently had a range of just 50 kilometers.
According to the SAR, the baseline estimate of the total acquisition cost for all Global Hawk drones was $5.394 billion, and the SAR estimate was $13.934 billion. In other words, the acquisition cost of these drones increased by more than 150 percent. Additionally, the operating and support cost of the Global Hawk program is expected to cost the Pentagon nearly $30 billion, driving the total cost of this drone to taxpayers above $43 billion.
Ben Freeman is a POGO investigator.
Image of Global Hawk via Bobbi Zapka