The contract for the Pentagon’s next generation strategic bomber hasn’t been awarded yet, but federal auditors already predict the effort will be a budgetary whopper.
A July 30 report by the Government Accountability Office found the U.S. is on pace to spend roughly $58 billion on its bomber fleet over the next decade. Well over half of that amount, $33.1 billion, would be gobbled up by the development and manufacture of the Air Force’s new strategic platform, the Long-Range Strike Bomber.
The other $24.4 billion would go toward upgrading the aging Northrop Grumman B-2 Spirit and the Boeing B-52 Stratofortress.
The GAO price tag, based on figures made available in May, is a stunning $18 billion higher than the $40 billon sticker price the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office gave the effort in January.
It also indicates that few people, including Air Force and Defense Department leaders, know the true cost of the highly-classified program.
The Air Force has estimated it would cost $55 billion to build as many as 100 Long Range Strike Bombers, or around $550 million each.
Those figures are likely to rise, though, given the service’s track record for keeping big ticket items on track and under budget.
The price of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program, for example, swelled to $400 billion, making it the single most expensive weapons project in U.S. history. Already several years behind schedule, its costs ballooned by roughly 70 percent, even after the Pentagon scaled back the number of planes it intends to purchase by more than 400, to roughly 2,440.
The bomber program itself isn’t off to a great start. The Air Force is expected to announce a contract decision sometime in September, a slip from a previous timetable of a June or July announcement.
Northrop Grumman and a Boeing-Lockheed Martin joint venture are competing for the highly-lucrative contract that defense observers say could upend the industry.
The GAO study shows that the total estimated cost of sustaining and modernizing the nuclear force rose 40 percent in 2014 when compared to the 2013 projections, in large part because the new amount includes the Long-Range Strike Bomber and the Air Force’s replacement for the Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missile, dubbed the Ground-Based Strategic Deterrent.