The U.S. Navy envisions using uncrewed maritime systems—robot ships and submersibles with artificial intelligence (AI) instead of sailors—to meet current and future threats at sea.
The Navy estimates it will spend $4.3 billion to acquire 21 uncrewed vehicles over the next five years, but a report by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) says this estimate doesn’t include the digital infrastructure, such as data repositories and software, needed for AI.
GAO found that while the Navy has established strategic objectives, it has not established a management approach that orients its individual uncrewed maritime efforts toward achieving these objectives. As such, the watchdog cautions that the Navy is not measuring its progress, such as building the robust information technology needed to operate the vehicles.
GAO has previously found that portfolio management—a disciplined process that ensures new investments are aligned with an organization’s strategic needs within available resources—enables agencies to implement strategic objectives and manage investments collectively. However, GAO believes that if it continues with its current approach, the Navy is less likely to achieve its objectives.
In addition, the Navy has yet to establish criteria to evaluate prototypes and develop improved schedules for prototype efforts.
With detailed planning, prototyping has the potential to further technology development and reduce acquisition risk before the Navy makes significant investments, GAO says. Since uncrewed systems are key to the Navy’s future, optimizing the prototyping phase of this effort would be necessary to efficiently gaining information to support future decisions.
GAO is making seven recommendations, including that the Navy complete a cost estimate with full costs to develop and operate uncrewed maritime systems; establish an uncrewed maritime systems portfolio and assign leadership to oversee it using portfolio management leading practices; and develop evaluation criteria and schedules for its prototypes. The Navy generally concurred with the recommendations. However, GAO responded that the Navy’s planned actions do not fully address all of them.