By Brian Everstine,
A 2013 Air Force plan to expand its drone fleet is flawed and risks overspending $8.8 billion on unneeded aircraft, the Defense Department Inspector General says in a September report obtained by Air Force Times this week.
Forty-six of the 401 MQ-9 Reapers in the planned procurement are potentially excess, according to the report, which comes as the Air Force says it is in dire need of personnel and aircraft to address the increased need for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance sorties.
The Inspector General found that the service did not follow proper protocol to get approval for an increase in Reaper procurement, and did not conduct and maintain proper analysis for determining its Reaper needs.
“As a result, the Air Force risks spending approximately $8.8 billion to purchase, operate and maintain 46 MQ-9 aircraft it may not need,” the Inspector General wrote in its report to the Air Force.
The Inspector General sent the “for official use only” report to the service in September. Air Force Times obtained it this week through a Freedom of Information Act request.
The report states that the service did not follow the Joint Capabilities Integration Development System requirement to obtain required Joint Requirements Oversight Council approval for an increase in procurement quantity. In response, the Air Force should perform a comprehensive analysis to determine exactly how many Reapers are required and submit the proper justification to the Joint Requirements Oversight Council for approval.
The 401 Reapers are intended for operations, training, testing and assignment to the Air National Guard; they are expected to fully replace the Air Force fleet of MQ-1B Predators.
The Defense Department in June 2011 tasked the Air Force with procuring enough drones to perform 65 combat air patrols by the end of 2013. The service reached that goal in May 2014 with a combined fleet of MQ-1Bs and MQ-9s, and continued its plan to buy more Reapers.
The Air Force largely agreed to the recommendations in the report and will provide additional analysis. However, in a reply to the report, Maj. Gen. Scott Zobrist, director of plans, programs and requirements, wrote that there has been an increase in demand for ISR, which justifies the need for more Reapers.
“We are concerned that your report does not highlight these dynamic characteristics of an MQ-9 program that evolved during a period of significant conflict to meet warfighter needs at OSD direction,” Zobrist wrote.
Air Force officials have recently called for an increase in manning to help address this shortfall in ISR capability. Air Force leadership last week announced new bonuses for remotely piloted aircraft pilots, along with other incentives to retain pilots and sensor operators.
“Our combatant commanders expect and demand the unique ISR capabilities that only the Air Force can provide,” Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James said at a Jan. 15 State of the Air Force news briefing. “Airmen who operate RPAs on a daily basis have delivered time critical data. They have prosecuted targets and supported our combatant commanders without fail. But this pace has been unrelenting. And so it’s critical that we address these problems now.”