The U.S. Air Force misstated the 10-year cost for research, procurement and support of its new long-range bomber in annual reports to Congress.
Last year, the Air Force estimated the cost of the top secret Long-Range Strike Bomber at $33.1 billion from fiscal 2015 through 2025. This year, it reported the fiscal 2016-2026 cost as $58.4 billion.
Asked to explain the change from one estimate to the other, the Air Force responded that both numbers were wrong — and the correct ones were $41.7 billion for each period. The 10-year cost is the first installment in what could be a 30-year program.
“The Air Force is working through the appropriate processes to ensure” that the congressionally mandated report “is corrected, and that our reports in subsequent years are accurate,” Air Force spokeswoman Ann Stefanek said in an e-mail.
Northrop Grumman Corp. is competing against a team of Boeing Co. and Lockheed Martin Corp. for the bomber’s development and production contract. Air Force Secretary Deborah James had said the award could come this month, but a defense official who spoke on condition of anonymity said the award has been delayed to September or October.
The disclosure of the errors, coming before the contract award, “does not inspire a lot of confidence,” Todd Harrison, a defense budget analyst with the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said in an e-mail.
“It also means that the cost is significantly higher over the next 10 years than previously realized, if the corrected figures are in fact correct,” he said.
The erroneous estimates were in congressionally mandated joint reports by the Defense and Energy Departments on the long-range costs of upgrading, sustaining and manning the U.S. nuclear arsenal. The annual reports are supposed to represent the collective, coordinated views of top budget and policy officials.
“The correct 10-year cost entry for both the FY2015 and FY2016 reports is $41.7B as the program costs have remained stable,” Stefanek said.
Army Lieutenant Colonel Joseph Sowers, a Pentagon spokesman for the office that submitted the nuclear weapons report, said it didn’t have anything more to add.
Loren Thompson, a defense analyst with the Lexington Institute in Arlington, Virginia, downplayed the misstatement, saying in an e-mail that it “doesn’t strike me as a big deal.”
“This sounds like a simple error,” Thompson said. “Whatever the Air Force may think it’s going to spend on the bomber program over the next 10 years, those numbers will change.” Boeing and Lockheed contribute to the institute.