The Defense Department needs to lay out a clear path to coordinate strategy on its lighter-than-air vessels, according to an October report by the Government Accountability Office.
DoD spent almost $1.3 billion on the vessels in fiscal 2012. The GAO report warns that if DoD wishes to keep investing in this technology, it must improve coordination and oversight of the projects. Between June 2011 and October, the period the review was conducted, “DoD did not have a reliable inventory of its aerostat and airship efforts, including insight into its entire investment in aerostats and airships, or an office that could discuss the status of all of these efforts.”
What information has been shared has been almost exclusively technical. “DoD has not provided effective oversight to ensure coordination of its aerostat and airship development and acquisition efforts,” the investigators concluded.
Aerostats (buoyant craft tethered to the ground) and airships (free-flying craft) have the potential to boost ISR and communications while cutting cargo transport costs. They are ideal for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance missions because they can hover over a targeted area longer than planes.
DoD has spent almost $7 billion on 15 “key programs” studied by GAO for its report. Many experienced cost overruns, and in the rush to get the technology into the field, DoD failed to lay out a strategic plan for the vessels, GAO said.
More than 100 aerostats are deployed for ISR in Afghanistan.
The GAO report recommended that if funding is curtailed, the Pentagon should focus in the short term on cataloging its inventory of vessels. If funding is increased, it should emphasize a long-term, comprehensive strategy, the report said.
Regardless, the Pentagon should have “defined” control over future programs, the report said.
In a response to the report, Kevin Meiners, deputy undersecretary of defense for intelligence strategy, programs and resources, concurred with GAO’s recommendations, but added that GAO should have provided a “more balanced perspective on the life-saving value” of the vessels.