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Oversight gap leaves Pentagon unsure if Afghan drone project has helped, IG says

The effectiveness of the catapult-launched ScanEagle surveillance drone program given to the Afghanistan military cannot be measured because of oversight flaws, an Inspector General's report says. Photo courtesy of Insitu 
The effectiveness of the catapult-launched ScanEagle surveillance drone program given to the Afghanistan military cannot be measured because of oversight flaws, an Inspector General's report says. Photo courtesy of Insitu 

July 17 (UPI) -- An oversight failure left the Pentagon unable to judge if a $174 million Afghan surveillance drone project is effective, an inspector general's report says.

Released on Friday by the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan, the report notes that at least $174 million was spent between 2015 and 2019 to supply Afghanistan's security forces with ScanEagle remotely piloted aircraft.

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It adds, though, that the Defense Department is unable to determine if the project is effective, if the Afghan forces can sustain it or what the immediate and long-term impacts of the investment.

"SIGAR found that Naval Air Systems Command [NAVAIR] -- responsible for overseeing the ScanEagle contracts, and [drone manufacturer and Boeing subsidiary] Insitu -- is unable to determine the extent to which Insitu met the terms of the contracts because NAVAIR did not meet U.S. government requirements for conducting contract oversight," the report says.

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It adds that NAVAIR did not designate a Contracting Officer's Representative for all of the ScanEagle contracts, it did not provide an in-country sponsor in Afghanistan responsible for validating contract requirements and kept inadequate contract records, all in violation of Defense Department guidelines.

The 47-page report concludes that whatever benefit the drones offer the Afghan forces is not quantifiable, and that their use has offered few gains in fighting Taliban forces in the country.

The catapult-launched Scan Eagle drone has a 10-foot wingspan, a 60-mile range and can transmit images taken by surveillance cameras. The drones met requirements for long-term, undetected missions across the country, and be tailored to specific needs for reconnaissance, according to the report.

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The report notes that the Afghan National Army "will require continued U.S. government and technical support to sustain the ScanEagle program."

The Defense Department has spent nearly $47.5 billion on equipment and programs for the Afghan military since 2005, according to the report.

The report also said that the Afghan military was unable to account for 27 of the 87 soldiers certified to operate the ScanEagle system, and of the 60 Afghan troops assigned to operate the drones, 17, on average, were typically absent due to "sickness, annual leave or unknown reasons."

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