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Evaluation of Weather Support Capabilities for the MQ-9 Reaper (DODIG-2020-059)

Evaluation

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Publicly Released: February 7, 2020

 

Objective

The objective of this evaluation was to determine whether the Air Force implemented weather support capabilities on the MQ-9 Reaper unmanned aircraft system (UAS).

 

Background

UASs provide intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) capabilities and can serve as strike platforms in support of strategic and tactical military operations. The Air Force manages several UASs, including the MQ-9 Reaper (referred to as the MQ-9), which replaced the MQ-1 Predator (referred to as the MQ-1) in December 2018.

Weather support capabilities are critical to mission planning and execution and command and control of UASs. These capabilities may include providing meteorological data to gauge ice buildup on the wings and generating climatological products merged with preplanned UAS routes and target locations.

Ice and extreme wind can limit UAS operations. Ice accretion is the process by which a layer of ice builds up on solid objects that are exposed to freezing precipitation, fog, or cloud droplets. The effectiveness of the mission and protection of the aircraft require that UAS operations be planned with an accurate understanding of ice accretion.

The MQ-9 was designed and built with limited weather support capabilities, which include analog sensors to measure outside air temperature and wind speed in near real-time, and a sensor calibrated to detect ice buildup (accretion) once the ice exceeds a preset level. The existing sensors were found to be ineffective for in-condition sensing. Therefore, the Air Force funded an MQ-9 trade study to evaluate weather sensors and weather sensor systems for their ability to provide situational awareness for current and impending weather.

Costly weather-related mishaps initially drove the need to develop real-time weather support capabilities for UASs. Class A mishaps occur when damages to Government property exceeds $2 million or personnel injury results in a fatality or permanent disability.

 

Finding

Between FY 2010 and FY 2016, the Air Force spent $17.7 million in Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) funding to develop enhanced weather support capabilities for the MQ-9 Reaper. However, the Air Force A2I never validated the requirement for the capabilities, which were later determined to not be needed, and the capabilities were never delivered.

This occurred because the Air Force A2/6 and A2I did not follow the normal acquisition process to develop and deliver this capability. Instead, the Air Force A2/6 and A2I used OCO funds to develop a requirement that should have been funded with research, development, test, and evaluation funds. In addition, because this development effort was funded with OCO funding, when OCO funding levels were reduced, the Air Force A2/6 stopped funding the development effort.

As a result, the Air Force wasted $17.7 million dollars in OCO funding developing a capability that was never delivered. Had the Air Force A2/6 followed appropriate acquisition processes, it could have used the $17.7 million on other Air Force OCO requirements.

 

Recommendations

We recommend that the Commander of Air Combat Command share the results of the study conducted for MQ-9 weather tolerance activities with the other Services that use the MQ-9 to ensure efficient use of resources and to prevent duplication of effort.

In addition, we recommend that the Department of the Air Force Auditor General conduct a review of Air Force Components’ use of OCO funding to develop innovation projects to ensure these funds are not used to develop capabilities that are not needed or that may be stopped due to shortages in OCO funding without being fully developed.

Furthermore, we recommend that the Air Force Chief of Staff review the actions of personnel in the Air Force Deputy Chief of Staff for Intelligence, Surveillance, Reconnaissance, and Cyber Effects Operations that were responsible for the development and funding of near real-time weather information and weather model forecasting capabilities and determine whether those individuals should be held accountable for wasting resources on capabilities that were being developed without validated requirements and which did not result in the capability being fully developed for DoD use.

 

Management Comments and Our Response

The Assistant Deputy Chief of Staff for Intelligence, Surveillance, Reconnaissance, and Cyber Effects Operations, responding for the Commander of the Air Combat Command, agreed with the recommendation to share the results of the study conducted for MQ-9 weather tolerance activities with the other Services.

However, the Assistant Deputy Chief of Staff stated that Air Combat Command did not initiate or receive results of the MQ-9 trade study for weather and recommended that Air Force Materiel Command share the results of the study with the other Services. Therefore, we redirected the recommendation to the Commander of the Air Force Materiel Command. We request that the Commander of the Air Force Materiel Command provide comments on this recommendation by February 28, 2020.

The Department of the Air Force Auditor General agreed with the recommendation to conduct a review of Air Force Components’ use of Overseas Contingency Operations funding to develop innovation projects and stated that a follow-up audit is expected to be completed on September 30, 2021. Comments from the Air Force Auditor General addressed the recommendation; therefore, the recommendation is resolved but will remain open.

The Assistant Deputy Chief of Staff for Intelligence, Surveillance, Reconnaissance, and Cyber Effects Operations, responding for the Air Force Chief of Staff, did not agree with the accountability recommendation and recommended that the DoD Office of Inspector General interview former members of Air Force A2Q and review additional documents.1 According to the Assistant Deputy Chief of Staff, these documents demonstrate that, even though nothing has been fully developed, capability development continues.

We reviewed the three documents cited by the Assistant Deputy Chief of Staff during our evaluation and reviewed the 17 additional documents provided by the former members of the Air Force A2Q. However, none of the documentation demonstrated a validated requirement as outlined in Air Force Instruction 10-601, which requires the documentation and review of capability requirements, associated capability gaps, risk, validation, and funding throughout the acquisition and fielding process. In addition, the documentation did not demonstrate that the capability is still in use within the DoD.

Therefore, comments from the Assistant Deputy Chief of Staff did not address the specifics of the recommendation. The recommendation is unresolved and will remain open. We request additional comments regarding the determination of accountability for the use of resources from the Air Force Chief of Staff on this recommendation by February 28, 2020.

 

 

This report is the product of Proj. No. D2019-DISPA2-0109.000