GAO Recommends Changes to Army's Future Vertical Lift Acquisition Process
The U.S. Army is developing several aircraft systems to supplement and replace its aging fleet of helicopters. Aircraft in this portfolio, known as Future Vertical Lift, are to perform attack, transport, and reconnaissance missions, and are designed to have upgraded capabilities—for example, increased payload and range.
Last year, the Government Accountability Office (GAO), was tasked with reviewing the Army's Future Vertical Lift planned acquisition approaches, the extent to which cost and schedule estimates align with leading practices, and the extent to which technical risk mitigation aligns with leading practices. In their 42-page report published on April 17, the agency provided seven recommendations on how the Army can improve its overall acquisition process for new helicopters and drones being developed as part of the Future Vertical Lift program.
To conduct this work, GAO reviewed acquisition documentation, analyzed cost estimates and schedules, and compared them to leading practices. GAO also interviewed officials from Future Vertical Lift, the Army, and the Office of the Secretary of Defense.
The Army is currently developing two crewed and one uncrewed aircraft systems:
- Future Attack Reconnaissance Aircraft is intended to address the Army's capability gap for a dedicated, armed aerial reconnaissance platform, and plans to deliver aircraft in 2030. Acquisition officials are currently conducting an analysis of alternatives and developing two prototypes.
- Future Long Range Assault Aircraft is intended to conduct long-range assault missions and serve as a multi-role aircraft to transport personnel and equipment. In fiscal year 2023, the Army reported awarding a contract to a single vendor to complete preliminary design, deliver a virtual prototype, and deliver a physical prototype for flight tests.
- Future Tactical Unmanned Aircraft System involves acquiring uncrewed vehicles in phases. The first phase is to meet urgent battlefield needs within 2 years; the next is to develop a new vehicle to conduct reconnaissance missions.
The cost and schedule estimates for these aircraft development efforts did not always meet leading practices. For example, the assault and uncrewed aircraft systems minimally met the threshold for a credible cost estimate. In addition, the business cases for these aircraft systems did not meet leading practices because they did not fully identify schedule risks.
In addition, the plans for the three aircraft systems do not meet leading practices for maturing and assessing technologies. GAO's leading practices recommend demonstrating critical technologies in an operational environment prior to system development. However, the crewed systems plan to demonstrate technologies after that point. Further, the Army is developing the new uncrewed system without first conducting a technology risk assessment.
Without credible cost estimates, operationally demonstrated technologies and knowledge of associated risks, the Army is in danger of not meeting its goals for fielding these capabilities.
GAO is making seven recommendations to the Army, including that the Future Vertical Lift portfolio improve cost estimates, demonstrate critical technologies prior to starting system development, and conduct a technology risk assessment, as appropriate. Here are the seven recommendations:
- The Secretary of the Army should ensure that the Future Long Range Assault Aircraft effort updates its life cycle cost estimate to align with all four elements of the credible characteristic as identified in GAO's Cost Estimating and Assessment Guide.
- The Secretary of the Army should ensure that the Future Tactical Unmanned Aircraft System effort updates its life cycle cost estimate to align with all four elements of the credible characteristic as identified in GAO's Cost Estimating and Assessment.
- The Secretary of the Army should ensure that the Future Long Range Assault Aircraft effort identifies and analyzes schedule risks prior to major events, such as its annual budget request.
- The Secretary of the Army should ensure that the Future Tactical Unmanned Aircraft System effort identifies and analyzes schedule risks prior to major events, such as its contract award for Increment 2.
- The Secretary of the Army should ensure that the Future Attack Reconnaissance Aircraft effort plans to demonstrate all of its critical technologies in an operational environment by the start of system
- The Secretary of the Army should ensure that the Future Long Range Assault Aircraft effort plans to demonstrate all of its critical technologies in an operational environment by the start of system development.
- The Secretary of the Army should ensure that the Future Tactical Unmanned Aircraft System effort conducts a technology risk assessment prior to contract award for Increment 2.
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