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Army's Out-of-Control "Future"

As gut-wrenching as today's Times story on runaway Pentagon spending is, the article doesn't touch on what's quickly becoming the biggest defense contracting boondoggle of them all.MULE012004-10-20.jpgReporter Leslie Wayne pulls out some great factoids in her piece today.For instance, contractors on the Joint Strike Fighter, a next-generation fighter jet, received their full bonus award of $494 million from 1999 to 2003, even though the program was $10 billion over budget and 11 months behind schedule.Contractors in the F-22A fighter jet program, over the same time period, received 91 percent of their performance bonus, or $849 million, even though the current phase of the program was $10 billion over budget and two years late. And a handy chart shows that the per-unit cost of the F-22 was 189 percent higher than originally expected.But that same chart shows the Army's massive Future Combat Systems modernization program costing a mere $127 billion -- up a paltry 54 percent since it was introduced.Which was true a couple of days ago.Now, however, the Office of the Secretary of Defense has a new estimate: $300 billion, to revamp about a third of the Army's gear.And remember, these costs are soaring in the earliest days of the program, before Future Combat's major hardware purchases are set. The new-fangled tanks, the family of ground robots, the fighting vehicle replacements -- in other words, the collective heart of the program -- are still enormous question marks. How much do you figure the price of FCS will go up, once those projects are set?That's one of the reasons why Sen. John McCain -- one of Congress' few truly good guys on this issue -- has been pushing the Pentagon to adopt "fixed price" contracts for weapons R&D, instead of the insane "cost-plus" agreements, which give defense firms huge bonuses, even when their projects spin out of control.But, of course, spinning projects out of control has become a contractor business strategy. Just look at what's happening with the F-22 and JSF. So the Lockheeds and Boeings of the world are fighting McCain's provisions, hard. If they win, how much do you think Future Combat will cost next year?

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