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Tomorrow's big programs should expect The Treatment

The Pentagon's top weapons-buyer, Ash Carter, told this anecdote to an audience at the Heritage Foundation earlier today: So these Navy guys show up and they've got this crazy submarine they wanna build -- SSBN(X), they called it -- and, whew, you better believe that thing was gonna be nice. Only problem was, yikes, was it pricey: It was looking like it was gonna cost about $7 billion per copy. "That means it would displace almost all of the Navy's shipbuilding accounts," Carter said. "Or, said differently, that's not happening."

So DoD and the Navy began changing the sub's design while it was still on the drawing board, Carter said -- they made changes to its "tube number, tube diameter, flank speed, stealth," and lowered the projected cost by 27 percent. Look for this sort of thing in a program near you, he said, because of the object of the game in Austerity America will be to only start programs that officials are confident they can see through to completion. No more Commanche, no more CG(X), no more CSAR(X) -- and this time they're serious.

Carter and his top deputy, Frank Kendall, said in separate sessions on Wednesday that the Air Force's new bomber, the Army's Ground Combat Vehicle, and every other major program will get SSBN(X)-style diligence up front. And in a touch that demonstrates we are in a new era for Pentagon acquisitions, Kendall used the Air Force's tanker competition as an example of good practices. Seriously: The requirements and capabilities for the planes are stable, he said. The Air Force is buying them under fixed-price contracts. Now that the rough patch is over, all DoD has to do is sit back and enjoy watching its brand new tankers enter service.

"I feel pretty comfortable that we're in a good place with the tanker," Kendall said.

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