The U.S. Navy's aircraft carrier-based unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) program has budget and schedule related risks associated with its acquisition strategy, according to a Government Accountability Office (GAO) report released Thursday.
(The Navy's X-47B Unmanned Combat Air System (UCAS) demonstrator aircraft. Results from test flights conducted with the aircraft earlier this year will help the Navy to develop parameters for a next-generation variant of the X-47B for its UCLASS program.)
The Navy is developing its Unmanned Carrier-Launched Airborne Surveillance and Strike (UCLASS) program to provide increased maritime surveillance for its fleet of aircraft carriers. However, according to GAO, the current strategy in pursuing the program will limit the ability for Congress to hold the Navy accountable for achieving goals on performance, schedule and cost.
"Specifically, the program will operate outside the basic oversight framework provided by mechanisms like a formal cost and schedule baseline, statutory unit cost tracking, and regular reports to Congress on cost, schedule, and performance progress," GAO said in its report.
During fiscal year 2014, the Navy estimates it will need $3.7 billion to develop, build and field from 6 to 24 aircraft to initiate its UCLASS capability. There are no plans for a key review of the program until 2020, when UCLASS has already been fielded, which does not allow lawmakers to have a great deal of oversight when considering program funding. That cost estimate also exceeds the level of funding needed to budget for the program through 2020, GAO said.
GAO also found problems with the UCLASS request for proposal schedule. The Navy has scheduled eight months between the time it issues a request for aircraft design proposals to the time it awards the actual contract, a process that normally takes up to 12 months to complete, according to Defense Department officials who contributed to GAO's report.
In an effort to correct the program risks, the government watchdog is recommending Congress direct the Navy to hold a Milestone B review for the UCLASS system after the preliminary design review of the first aircraft is complete in 2015. Navy officials have said they do not plan on implementing any of the recommendations from GAO's report.