GAO Highlights Airship and Aerostat Programs Delays

GAO Highlights Airship and Aerostat Programs Delays
Mike McCarthy

A number of the Pentagon’s airship and aerostat programs are being delayed by technical problems and the department should create a more centralized effort to coordinate the various projects pursued by the Army, Air Force and Navy, the Government Accountability Office said in a report released yesterday.

Several of the intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) programs have encountered technical challenges frequently related to weight issues, which have resulted in scheduling and production delays along with cost overruns, the GAO said in examining 15 aerostat and airship programs that were in place as of 2007 and initiative afterwards.

“Three of the four aerostat and airship efforts under development, plus another airship development effort that was terminated in June 2012, have suffered from high acquisition risks because of significant technical challenges, such as overweight components, and difficulties with integration and software development, which, in turn, have driven up costs and delayed schedules,” GAO said.

GAO cited the Army’s Joint Land Attack Cruise Missile Defense Elevated Netted Sensor System, or JLENS, as one that has run into problems. The Raytheon [RTN]-built aerostats in development since 2005 have experienced design issues connected to a mobile mooring vehicle in addition to schedule delays caused by synchronization of JLENS with the Army Integrated Air and Missile Defense program, GAO said.

The original plan to buy 16 JLENS systems has been reduced to the two already developed and plans to go into production in September 2010 were canceled following an accident as well as system integration challenges, and is now expected to be kept at the two aerostats, GAO said.

The Integrated Structure is Sensor (ISIS) program has also been hit by technical problems, which prompted the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) to put off construction of an air frame earlier this year to focus on the radar aspect of the program. DARPA is jointly developing ISIS and the prime contractor is Lockheed Martin [LMT].

GAO said the Army’s Long Endurance Multi-Intelligence Vehicle (LEMV) built by Northrop Grumman [NOC] is about 12,000 pounds overweight and is 10 months behind schedule because of issues with fabric production, clearing foreign parts through customs and first time testing and integration issues.

The GAO said the Pentagon has made progress in coordinating the development of the platforms across the services by establishing technical working groups to resolve problems, but said increased coordination at a higher level should be taking place to oversee the overall effort.