The Pentagon’s reputation took a big hit from the F-35 Strike Fighter project that has ended up $163 billion over budget, more than seven years behind schedule and is expected to cost $1.5 trillion over the 55-year-life of the program. The Defense Department put so much money into the project it literally deemed it “too big to fail” in 2010.
Just how well the Pentagon does in containing costs and bringing programs in on time is now getting another big test – and so far, the military seems to be having mixed success. The Air Force’s new top priority is the highly classified Long Range Strike Bomber, a new generation of stealth bombers designed to fly undetected into enemy territory.
The Air Force in the months ahead is expected to award a contract for a new fleet of bombers that could begin flying by the mid-2020s, The Washington Post reported Tuesday. Military experts agree there is a vital need for the new generation of bombers to replace an aging fleet, including the B-52 Stratofortress that dates to the mid-1950s.
With so little known about the classified project, some worry the military may be low-balling the ultimate cost of the bombers as they lock into a new multi-billion-dollar project.
Currently, three major defense contractors – Northrop Grumman, Boeing and Lockheed Martin (the developer of the F-35) – have been invited to compete.
“It’s an incredibly important capability, and I hope the program can succeed and stay within the cost parameters they set,” said Todd Harrington, director of defense budget studies at the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments. “But history suggests otherwise. This program -- like those that have gone before it -- is likely to fall into some of the same traps that cause cost-overruns in defense acquisitions.”
The Air Force has estimated that it would cost $55 billion to build as many as 100 Long Range Strike Bombers – or about $550 million each.
Defense officials say the new bombers actually will cost significantly less than their predecessor, the B-2 bomber, or some high-end commercial jets, according to The Post.
But the latest cost projections for the new long-range strike bombers were made back in 2010, and they have not been adjusted for inflation.
Moreover, as Harrison noted, the $55 billion figure doesn’t include the development costs, which could add as much as $25 billion to the overall cost.
“They’ve already set themselves up with that $55 billion number, without clarifying to people that that doesn’t include the development costs,” Harrison said. “I am 100 percent certain that program will cost more than $55 billion.”
The Air Force already has spent money on program development and has requested $1.2 billion more for fiscal year 2016.
Other experts say that current efforts at overall cost projections are meaningless. “I would go to Las Vegas and bet on cost overruns for this system,” Hans Kristensen of the Federation of American Scientists, told The Post.
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