Air Force leaders on Monday shrugged off concerns that the service got the projected 10-years cost of its next-generation bomber wrong to the tune of more than $27 billion.
Last year, the Air Force told Congress the estimated cost for developing the Long-Range Strike Bomber from fiscal years 2015 to 2024 would be $33.1 billion. This year, the service put the price tag at $58.2 billion between fiscal 2016 and 2026, a 76 percent increase.
The service has since said the actual cost should have been $41.7 billion all along. Beyond that, officials aren’t sweating how such an error occurred in what is estimated to be a $55 billion, multi-decade program.
“There has been no change in the costing factors over the last two years … it was a mistake. It was a regrettable mistake,” Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James said during a Pentagon press briefing.
“It occurred in part because of human error and in part because of process error, meaning a couple of people got the figures wrong and the process of coordination was not fully carried out in this case,” she said, adding the method involves “other people” looking at the numbers to provide a “check and balance.”
James said leaders have counseled those involved, “tightened up” the process, corrected the price tag with Congress and double-checked all the other figures contained in the reports.
“The key thing is there has been no change in those cost figures,” she said.
Air Force chief of staff Gen. Mark Welsh also downplayed the blunder.
“We were surprised by the number when we saw it as well once it had been pointed out to us that it looked like the number had grown because we’ve been using the same number, it has not changed,” he told reporters.
Don’t expect Capitol Hill lawmakers to take the Air Force explanation at face value, especially given the service’s poor track record developing other pricey weapons programs, like the F-22 Raptor and the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter.
Earlier Monday, Rep. Jackie Speier (CA) sent a letter to James demanding to know how the multi-billion dollar mix-up happened.
“This sudden 76 percent increase in estimated cost is alarming, because it raises questions about the management of a crucial program that lacks transparency, on which we cannot afford serious cost overruns, development errors, and reduced production numbers that would deprive the United States of one of its core military capabilities,” Speier, the ranking member on the House Armed Services Oversight and Investigations subpanel, wrote.
Speier, who has been critical of the program in the past, said the Pentagon “has promised that the LRS-B would be produced at a fixed price of $500 million per plane, but these reports suggest we should be concerned about the reliability of that promise.”
The Air Force estimates it would cost $55 billion to build as many as 100 new bombers to replace aging B-52 and B-2 fleets.
James said the botched figure has not and will not impact how the service projects executes its costs projections.
She declined to comment if the contract award for the new bomber would be given out in October, several months after a previous June or July deadline.
The award will be given “soon,” according to James.
Northrop Grumman and a Boeing-Lockheed Martin joint venture are competing to build the new stealth bomber.