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General: 'Of course' new Air Force bomber will be more than $550M per plane

Mar. 5, 2014 - 06:00AM   |  
Offical Photo : LtGen Charles Davis
Lt. Gen. Charles Davis (US Air Force)
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WASHINGTON — The Air Force’s top military acquisition officer expects the cost of the new long-range strike bomber to exceed an expected per-unit cost limit — but indicated that has been part of the planning process.

“We get a lot of questions on [per-unit cost],” said Lt. Gen. Charles Davis, service military deputy for acquisition. “Is it going to be $550 million a copy? No, of course it’s not going to be $550 million a copy once you add in everything.”

While that $550 million figure may not be realistic, Davis said the service is trying to aim as close to the target as possible to keep extra requirements and untested technology from finding its way onto the platform.

“What it will be is $550 million in design constraints,” Davis told an audience at the Aviation Week Defense Technologies and Requirements Conference. “So if we’re going to set design constraints ... that limits the technology you bring in, it limits certain parameters and certain capabilities. By definition we have used a cost-controlled approach to that airplane to be able to curb some of the appetite we have for very new capabilities.”

That $550 million figure, which originated with guidance from then-Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, has long been held up by service officials as a figure that should not be exceeded in order to avoid the kind of excess costs that have plagued other major procurement projects, such as the F-35 joint strike fighter. Outside analysts, particularly in the non-proliferation world, have questioned whether that figure is realistic.

The program, which is slated to procure 80-100 of the penetrating platforms, gets a big boost in the service’s FY 2015 budget request, with research, development, test and evaluation costs jumping from $359 million to $914 million.

After his speech, Davis declined to say what the actual cost for the bomber may be, but reiterated that he is pleased with the way the service is handling procurement of the platform.

“I’ll tell you if you start it out right and you constrain your design to a dollar figure, basically build around this design number for a unit cost, then by definition you constrain the unit cost for what would be the average procurement cost for the bomber,” Davis said. “And you also constrain the total procurement cost because there’s going to be less R&D you’re going to put into this if you’re going to say, ‘look I’ve only got 550 million to design around.’”

That method of setting a target cost in order to constrain program growth will likely be seen again, Davis said. He highlighted both the T-X trainer replacement program and the new JSTARS recapitalization as two programs that could be handled this way.

“Every one of those will now try to follow that path,” Davis said. “We’ve just seen that we cannot do a very good job of inventing the stuff the same time we’re trying to integrate it.”

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