The price on the U.S. Air Force’s next-generation bomber was just raised. Again.
Last year, Air Force officials told Congress that the cost for the 10-year research and development phase for the Long-Range Strike Bomber would be $33.1 billion between fiscal years 2015 through 2025. But this year the price skyrocketed. The Air Force said the cost for fiscal 2016 to 2026 would be $58.4 billion, a 76 percent increase.
The service explained the discrepancy, first reported by Bloomberg, by saying both figures were wrong and that the actual cost is really 24 percent more.
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“The correct 10-year cost entry for both … reports is $41.7 billion as the program costs have remained stable,” Air Force spokesperson Ed Gulick said in a statement.
The service “is working through the appropriate processes to ensure” the report, requested by lawmakers is “corrected, and that our reports in subsequent years are accurate,” he added. The Air Force has estimated it would cost $55 billion to build as many as 100 new bombers, or around $550 million per aircraft.
Northrop Grumman and a Boeing-Lockheed Martin joint venture are competing to build the new stealth bomber. The service could award the contract sometime in September or October, which is already a slip from a previous timetable of a June or July announcement.
If you think you’ve heard it all before, you have. The embattled F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, which is estimated to cost well over $1.5 trillion, has so many technical problems that it as of March this year it couldn’t pass basic requirements needed to fly in combat. Even so, the project has soared $170 billion over budget to date.
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While not all of the reasons for the Air Force’s current accounting error may ever be fully known, given the top-secret nature of the program, the new price tag is sure to raise eyebrows among lawmakers and budget watchers.
“It’s one thing to say the FY2016 number is wrong, although being almost $17 billion off would be head-scratching in and of itself. But was the FY 2015 ten-year number also wrong -- by nearly $9 billion -- as suggested by the Air Force?” asked Kingston Reif, director for disarmament and threat reduction policy at the Arms Control Association.
“Whatever the case, this speaks to the need for even more rigorous oversight” from the Pentagon, the Government Accountability Office and Congress of the Air Force’s “cost estimating/control for the LRS-B, especially in light of the B-2 programs enormous cost growth,” he added.
Reif said the new cost estimate “also speaks to the imperative of not rushing to pour money into this program until Congress has a clear picture of the program schedule and what exactly it is the Air Force intends to buy.”