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Hotline Allegations Regarding the Acceptance and Testing of the MQ-9 Reaper Aircraft DODIG-2018-146

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Objective:

We evaluated a Defense Hotline complaint regarding the acceptance and testing of the MQ‑9 Reaper aircraft. Specifically, we evaluated the following allegations:

  • Allegation 1 – The Detachment 3 (Det 3) Lead Engineer miscategorized and inappropriately accepted nonconforming material.
  • Allegation 2 – Operating Location- Detachment 3 (OL-Det 3) personnel performed flight tests early in the morning to prevent the aircraft from overheating and obtain favorable flight test results.

In addition to the Defense Hotline complaint, we also evaluated the MQ‑9 Reaper’s average lifetime Class A mishap rate to determine whether the mishap rate was consistent with similar DoD unmanned aircraft vehicles.

Background:

The Air Force MQ‑9 Reaper is an unmanned aircraft equipped with weapon and surveillance systems. General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, Incorporated (GA‑ASI) is the Air Force contractor that manufactures the MQ‑9 Reaper and operates the MQ‑9 Reaper flight test facility. The MQ‑9 Reaper System Program Office (SPO) manages the acquisition and d elivery o f t he MQ‑9 Reaper. The SPO is located at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio. Det 3, located at the GA‑ASI manufacturing facility in Poway, California, performs onsite contract and engineering oversight of GA‑ASI for the MQ‑9 Reaper. OL-Det 3, located at the GA‑ASI flight test facility performs flight tests of the MQ‑9 Reaper.

Findings:

We reviewed 44 reports of MQ‑9 Reaper nonconforming material and determined that the Det 3 Lead Engineer appropriately categorized and accepted nonconforming material, in accordance with Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR) Part 46, “Quality Assurance.”  The Det 3 Lead Engineer determined and documented that GA‑ASI’s recommendations for repair and acceptance of the nonconforming material was in the best interest of the SPO as allowed in FAR Part 46.

We also reviewed MQ‑9 Reaper flight test records from March 8, 2017, to October 17, 2017, and determined that OL-Det 3 personnel performed all 48 acceptance flight tests between 8:26 a.m. and 3:34 p.m. when outside air temperatures were within the range specified in the contract.

Therefore, we did not substantiate the allegations. However, we determined that the SPO did not have two key documents. First, the SPO did not have an official memorandum to delegate Det 3 engineers the authority to accept nonconforming material, as required by Air Force Materiel Command Instruction 63-1201, “Implementing Operational Safety, Suitability and Effectiveness and Life Cycle Systems Engineering,” March 28, 2017. Without an official delegation of authority memorandum, the Det 3 engineers could misunderstand or potentially abuse their specific roles, responsibilities, and authorities, which could result in the inappropriate acceptance of major or critical nonconforming material.

Second, the SPO did not have adequate documentation related to critical safety items. Specifically, the SPO did not develop a comprehensive critical safety items list. Critical safety items are parts, assemblies, or equipment for an aircraft or aviation weapons system that contain a characteristic where any failure, malfunction, or absence could cause a catastrophic or critical failure resulting in the loss or serious damage to the aircraft or weapons system.  The SPO provided lists of critical safety items. However, the lists did not identify the prime contractor, the original equipment manufacturer, and alternate sources of manufacture, supply, or repair for each of the critical safety items, as required by Air Force Instruction 20-106, “Management of Aviation Critical Safety Items,” January 25, 2006. Without a critical safety items list meeting the requirements of Air Force Instruction 20-106, Det 3 engineers could overlook critical safety item criteria leading to inappropriate acceptance of nonconforming material.

Finally, we determined that the MQ‑9 Reaper average lifetime Class A mishap rate was consistent with a similar unmanned aircraft vehicle, the Q-4 Global Hawk. We also determined that the MQ‑9 Reaper average lifetime Class A mishap rate had significantly improved from its predecessor, the MQ-1 Predator.

Recommendations:

We recommend that the SPO Senior Materiel Leader formally delegate to Det 3 engineers the authority to accept nonconforming material, as required by Air Force Materiel Command Instruction 63-1201.

We recommend that the SPO Senior Materiel Leader develop and approve a comprehensive critical safety items list, as required by Air Force Instruction 20-106.

Management Comments and Our Response:

The Program Executive Officer for Intelligence, Surveillance, Reconnaissance, and Special Operations Forces, responding for the SPO Senior Materiel Leader, agreed with the recommendations. Specifically, the Program Executive Officer stated that the SPO will formally delegate authority to the Det 3 Chief Engineer and incorporate a critical safety items list into all applicable contracts. The Program Executive Officers comments and planned corrective actions adequately addressed the specifics of the recommendations. Therefore, the recommendations are resolved, but remain open. We will close the recommendations once we verify that the planned corrective actions have been implemented.
(This report is a result of Project No. D2017-D000PT-0174).