Jim Kouri
Unmanned aircraft systems: improvements needed to support warfighters
By Jim Kouri
December 27, 2008

(The following commentary is based on material obtained by the National Security Committee of the National Association of Chiefs of Police.)

The Department of Defense's use of unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) continues to increase. In 2000, DOD components had fewer than 50 unmanned aircraft in their inventory. By May 2008, they had more than 6,000.

However, DOD faces challenges, such as UAS acquisition and the integration of UAS into joint combat operations. Over the past several years, the Office of the Secretary of Defense, the Joint Staff, and the military services have undertaken several initiatives to improve the management of UAS programs and the operational use of these systems.

Specifically, DOD has established new entities and refocused the mission of an existing organization. DOD has also initiated several studies to determine UAS needs and help inform future UAS acquisition decisions.

In addition, DOD issued the Unmanned Systems Roadmap 2007-2032 (Roadmap), which it characterizes as a comprehensive plan for the evolution and transition of unmanned systems technology, including UAS. Also, in select cases the military services are developing and fielding common UAS programs and proceeding to develop more common concepts of operations.

DOD has taken steps to improve the management and operational use of UAS, but its approach lacks key elements of an overarching organizational framework needed to fully integrate efforts, sustain progress, and resolve challenges.

First, DOD has increased management attention on UAS and commenced at least seven separate initiatives since September 2006 to address challenges presented by the rapid integration of UAS into the military services' force structure, yet no single office or entity, supported by an implementation team, is accountable for integrating these key management efforts. Although these efforts are intended to complement one another, the priorities for each initiative have not been fully integrated with a DOD-wide approach to resolve UAS challenges and determine how UAS will meet the department's intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance or other mission needs.

Second, DOD has not defined the roles, responsibilities, and relationships among the various UAS-related organizations to provide for effective communication of efforts within DOD and among external stakeholders. For example, DOD has not clarified how it will coordinate the efforts of its task forces addressing UAS issues.

Third, DOD has not developed a comprehensive and integrated strategic plan to align departmental and service efforts to improve the management and operational use of UAS with long-term implementation goals, priorities, time lines, and other departmental planning efforts. DOD issued the Roadmap in 2007 to guide the development of unmanned systems to meet joint warfighter needs, but the Roadmap lacks key elements of a sound strategic plan, such as a focus on how to accomplish DOD's goals and objectives for UAS, milestones to track progress, identification of performance gaps, and clear linkages between proposed UAS investments and long-term planning goals.

The Government Accountability Office's prior work has shown that a framework that includes an accountable implementation team, an established communications strategy, and a comprehensive and integrated strategic plan can serve as a basis for organizations that seek to transform their cultures in response to governance challenges and to sustain progress over time. In the absence of an approach that establishes clear accountability and a strategic plan to guide UAS development and investment decisions, DOD will continue to be challenged to fully integrate departmental and service efforts to resolve problems in the management and operational use of UAS.

© Jim Kouri


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Jim Kouri

Jim Kouri, CPP is currently fifth vice-president of the National Association of Chiefs of Police... (more)


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