DoD's top weapons-buyer, Ash Carter, flew out to Southern California last week to talk with America's twin titans of aerospace, Lockheed and Boeing, according to a report by Reuters' Andrea Shalal-Esa. On the agenda was the Air Force's next-generation bomber, an incredible new super-aircraft that will be able to cruise at eight times the speed of sound, drop a bomb into a thimble, change Pepsi to Coke, cure the common cold, use sunlight for fuel and produce an exhaust of only rainbows.
Kidding, kidding -- those were the original requirements. Now DoD and the Air Force say they're dialing back their goals for the bomber so that the Pentagon can build it with as little risk as possible, although as Shalal-Esa wrote, the aerospace industry types are already nervous about this program, even though it represents billions of dollars of income for them.
As Shalal-Esa wrote:
One big challenge is that work on the bomber is likely to be classified, but funding for the program will be in the public domain, said one executive who was not authorized to speak on the record. Defense companies are also worried that the Pentagon may try to develop the new bomber on a fixed-price development contract, rather than the cost-plus contracts used in the past, according to a second industry executive.Fine -- but with a classified program, how will anyone know whether any of this has succeeded?
Carter, meanwhile, is focused on ensuring that development of a new bomber doesn't run into the cost overruns and schedule delays that have plagued most big weapons programs. He told lawmakers last month the Pentagon wanted to build "affordability" into big weapons programs from the start.
"The military services have worked and reworked the requirements for these programs to ensure that we do not find ourselves, after spending billions on development, with a system we can't afford to produce," he said in written testimony for the House defense appropriations subcommittee.
The Air Force said it was focused on keeping the new bomber affordable by constraining military requirements and adopting a streamlined management and acquisition approach. Setting a target for the new plane's average procurement cost would allow officials to make the capability trade-offs needed to keep program costs low, the service said.