Air Force fires back at IG over Reaper buys

The service says that the DOD Inspector General's report on purchases of the unmanned aircraft used out-of-date information.

Reaper long-range UAS

A recent report on the Air Force’s MQ-9 Reaper program by the Defense Department Inspector General has garnered a sharp response from the Air Force.

The Inspector General’s report said that the Air Force did not justify the need for the procurement of 401 MQ-9 remotely piloted aircraft, and that the service may be spending approximately $8.8 billion on the purchase, operation and maintenance of 46 unneeded Reapers.

The Air Force, however, said the IG was working with old data and that the service doesn’t plan to buy nearly that many aircraft.

The MQ-9 is the Air Force’s workhorse RPA and is equipped to handle intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance, close air support, combat search and rescue, precision strike, buddy-laser, convoy/raid overwatch, route clearance, target development, and terminal air guidance missions, according to an Air Force fact sheet.  

The IG concluded that Air Force officials did not follow requirements to obtain Joint Requirements Oversight Council approval to increase the procurement quantity, which is typically needed to support the acquisition review process.

Air Force Combat Command officials also failed to “…conduct and maintain consistent, complete, and verifiable analyses for determining the necessary aircraft quantity,” according to the report. The IG has recommended that the Air Force to perform new analyses to figure out the necessary quantity and to resubmit production documents before making any fiscal year 2015 decisions.

However, the conclusions of the Inspector General’s report are based on out-of-date data, according to an Air Force release.   

"The data in the report is a year old," Lt. Gen. Robert Otto, Air Force deputy chief of staff for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, said in the release. "The Air Force is only buying 346 aircraft, 55 fewer than the 401 figure contained in the report and we've only received about half that number. The projected total Reaper fleet of 346 is far less the service had originally estimated prior to sequestration.”

Even then, Combatant Commanders could use more Reapers, say Air Force officials, especially as demand for ISR remains high. The Air Force had requested funds to purchase 83 more Reapers in its fiscal year 2015 budget request.

“The MQ-9 has made tremendous contributions in combat operations, which has saved countless American and coalition lives,” Otto said. “Over its lifetime, the Reaper has flown nearly 700,000 hours, most of those in combat operations, and continues to prove its worth daily in operations over Iraq, Afghanistan, and the Horn of Africa."