Unmanned Aerial Vehicles

Questionable Basis for Revisions to Shadow 200 Acquisition Strategy Gao ID: NSIAD-00-204 September 26, 2000

The Army plans to buy 44 Shadow 200 tactical unmanned aerial vehicle systems. Each system includes three unmanned aircraft; 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. The cost to buy the 44 systems is estimated at $430 million through 2004. To field systems more quickly, the Army's plan to increase the number of low-rate initial production systems from four to eight. GAO assessed whether the Army made a sound decision in changing its acquisition strategy. GAO recommends that the Army not buy four additional systems until after operational testing is completed. One reason is that operational testing of the system in a realistic combat environment can reveal whether the overall system will meet the Army's operational needs.

GAO noted that: (1) 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; (2) in contrast, the Army's original strategy, which would prove system capabilities before producing additional systems, was sound; (3) among its reasons to justify the revision, the Army contends that accelerating the program will enable it to field a much needed capability sooner; (4) also, the Amry believes that risk associated with additional production prior to operational testing is substantially mitigated by significant developmental and other testing that is planned; (5) GAO is concerned that the Army cannot know whether the Shadow 200 system will be operationally effective before operational testing takes place; and (6) GAO's 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.


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