Cover: Innovative Development

Innovative Development

Global Hawk and DarkStar: Their Advanced Concept Technology Demonstrator Program Experience, Executive Summary

Published 2002

by Jeffrey A. Drezner, Robert S. Leonard


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In 1994, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency and the Defense Airborne Reconnaissance Office launched a joint initiative with the goal to overcome the impediments that had hampered past unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) development. This effort — designated the High-Altitude Endurance Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Advanced Concept Technology Demonstration (HAE UAV ACTD) program — applied an innovative acquisition strategy to the development of two UAVs: one conventionally configured (Global Hawk) and the other with a low-observable configuration (DarkStar). The report summarizes the major research findings regarding the HAE UAV ACTD program's acquisition strategy. The authors conclude that despite DarkStar's cancellation — and despite overall program cost growth and schedule slippage in basic design and test of the two HAE UAV concepts, the ACTD program did accomplish its primary objective by successfully demonstrating the military utility of a UAV with a continuous, all-weather, wide-area surveillance capability. Although the program's single requirement — the unit flyaway price — was not met, it did promote cost consciousness while at the same time preventing the imposition of additional system capabilities during the basic system development. The authors found the program's use of Other Transaction Authority to lend considerable flexibility to the effort. While the program's designation as an ACTD imposed cost and schedule boundaries that constrained system development, it also provided a high degree of flexibility to adjust the program execution. Areas of risk were addressed as they arose, and early flight test experience was assimilated into continuing system development efforts. Relatively modest changes in up-front planning processes, the structured participation of operational users early in the program, and contract language regarding oversight processes and incentives would ensure successful application of the acquisition strategy to a broader range of systems.

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