The US military has started dramatically expanding its fleet of drones over the past few years, but it's apparently become more than a little overeager in doing so. In a report obtained by The Guardian, the Department of Defense's inspector general says that the Air Force has failed to justify its plans to purchase 46 new Reaper drones at total cost of $8.8 billion. The new drones would come as part of a larger increase to the fleet — some of which is properly accounted for — but the inspector general says that not all of those drones have been proven to be necessary.
Building and maintaining a single drone costs $192 million
In many cases, Air Combat Command appears to have arbitrarily decided how many additional drones to buy or has miscalculated how many would be necessary. In the instance of mission drones, the ACC overestimated how many drones would be needed because it didn't take into account the full flight time that they're able to average, leading to it approving 13 extra drone purchases. For training purposes, the ACC kind of just decided to buy 11 more drones at a cost of $2.1 billion. "Two ACC officials stated that they performed no analyses to justify the specified number of necessary training aircraft," the report says. That kind of finding continues when it comes to additional test drones as well. In total, this led the inspector general to find 46 drones that hadn't been justified.
The inspector general's report was filed on September 30th, 2014 and was provided to The Guardian through a Freedom of Information Act request. The report notes that the Air Force only risks spending this additional money, meaning this $8.8 billion should be saved if the government takes into account these findings. The report recommends that the ACC "perform comprehensive analyses to determine the necessary quantity" of Reaper drones and then update its figures before making any decisions for 2015. It's possible that it could end up adding some of those 46 back onto the list, but theoretically it'll be justified this time.