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.Reporter 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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