Air Force Blames Mistaken Bomber Costs on ‘Human Error’

The U.S. Air Force blamed mistaken cost estimates for the new bomber program in part on "human error."

The U.S. Air Force blamed mistaken cost estimates for the new bomber program — one of the most closely watched defense acquisition efforts underway — in part on “human error.”

As Bloomberg News reporter Tony Capaccio noted in a question to officials this week during a “State of the Air Force” briefing at the Pentagon, the service this year estimated the so-called Long Range Strike Bomber, or LRSB, would cost $58 billion over a decade, up from a previous estimate of just $33 billion — though the correct figure is closer to $42 billion.

Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James said the following about the discrepancy.

“There has been no change in the costing factors over the last two years,” she said. “It was a mistake. It was a regrettable mistake. It occurred in part because of human error and in part because of process error, meaning a couple of our people got the figures wrong and the process of coordination was not fully carried out in this case. Coordination, of course, means other people are providing a check and balance and looking at the numbers, so that’s typically how something like this would get caught.”

She added, “So we’ve counseled the people, we’ve tightened up the process. It’s been corrected with the Congress. The key thing is there has been no change in those cost figures and we regret the error.

She and other Air Force officials have long said the next-generation bomber is an acquisition priority, along with a handful of others, including F-35 Joint Strike Fighter; the KC-46A refueling tanker; the combat rescue helicopter; joint surveillance target attack radar system replacement; and the T-X trainer.

The service wants to buy between 80 and 100 new bombers at no more than $550 million apiece to replace its aging fleet of B-52 Stratofortresses made by Boeing Co. and a least a portion of its B-1 fleet.

A team led by Northrop Grumman Corp., maker of the B-2 bomber, is competing against another headed by Boeing Co., the world’s largest aerospace company, and Lockheed Martin Corp., the world’s largest defense contractor.

Northrop, which arguably has the most to lose of any of the competitors, has launched an advertising blitz for its new strategic bomber, from a Super Bowl commercial to print advertisements in general interest and trade publications to posters in the D.C. subway system. If it doesn’t win the contract, it would probably become an acquisition target in a major consolidation of the U.S. defense industry.

The Air Force was expected to announce a winner this spring or summer, though James said a decision will be made “soon.”

The Long-Range Strike Bomber contract will be awarded soon,” she said. “We will do it when we are ready. The key thing is to make sure that we are doing it correctly, and so that’s why — that is what we’re doing, is making sure that we get this done correctly. So that’s point number 1.”

About the Author

Brendan McGarry
Brendan McGarry is the managing editor of Military.com. He can be reached at brendan.mcgarry@military.com. Follow him on Twitter at @Brendan_McGarry.
  • Taxpayer's friend

    WHO CARES how much it costs? It's all funny-money, anyway….

    • dockrick

      our money is based on good will only, which we don't got much of.

    • wtpworrier

      Funny money don't buy bombers…that's fer sure!

  • deerbandit

    Any money involving the obama administration is funny money.

    • Charles

      Ironically, it was the so-called fiscal conservatives in the previous administration that caused the worst financial disaster since the Great Depression (after inheriting an $800B annual surplus from the evil Clinton Administration). If you look at the GOP-led HoR's spending record from 2001-2006, they all lined up at the trough at a spending rate that would've made a Kennedy blush 'cause they knew the POTUS would sign anything. As for the Dem's that won the slimmest of margins in 2006: they didn't have the clout or votes to withstand a filibuster or presidential veto.

      And the CBO report on the topic, concluded that the majority of the damage had been done by the time the Dem's got control of the HoR's (though, they were not without some culpability).

      As for the dough Obama spent not too long after taking office: that money (used to stop the recession from becoming a full-blown depression) never would've been spent if the GOP had been responsible stewards of the nations affairs – and most economists didn't think he spent enough.

      Cheers.

      • Tom Clancy, Jr.,

        While I can mostly agree with your mostly correct analysis, "Charles", I must add:
        The longer it is since I've rejected *BOTH* parties, the more they look the **SAME**….
        ****BOTH**** parties in the ruling Duopoly play a sort of "Mutt & Jeff", or "Good cop – Bad cop"
        game, where they basically take turns "blaming" each other for various sins of both omission & commission…..It's all about MONEY, and POWER. ….It's *YOUR* money, and *THEIR* power….
        Putting a woman in charge of the Air Force makes the ladies and Libs happy, but it's really
        the same old "shell game", and song-and-dance routine, which digital smoke and mirrors, and a laser light show…..
        Besides, in 10 years, ~$20Billion won't even buy 1 CVN….

  • deerbandit

    Any money involving the obama administration is funny money. Unfortunately the jokes on us the people who actually pay taxes, not the ones who sit on their butts and complain and do nothing all day. What a country!!!!

    • Tom Clancy, Jr.,

      Great. Another Obama-llama. "Funny money" means fiat currency.
      The Fed sells money to the U.S. Treasury at interest, and we all pay the bill.
      The Fed is a PRIVATE bank, with SECRET owners.
      If you didn't have your head so far up Obammers' backsides, you might
      actually be able to *LEARN* something….
      Obammer is just the latest distraction, and you seem VERY distracted.
      That's how SCAMS like in the story above happen in the first place.
      WAKE UP, kiddo. They're ALL scamming YOU, and no, it ain't only BHO….

      • deerbandit

        I think you need to READ my comment. No obama lover here. He is currently in charge so he and or his administration get the blame. Thats the way it works. Now when the new administration comes in and if they are the same as this group of bumbling idiots then I will be on them about their failures also.

      • Tom Clancy, Jr.,

        Yur *STILL* missing *MY* point.
        Blaming Obama is what THEY WANT you to do…..
        STOP PLAYING the BLAME GAME, would ya"….????….
        You're just a *tool* for the Global Ruling Elites, and Global Banksters….
        (But, yes, I am very glad that you read, and post here….
        ….keep up the good work, "deerbandit"…..)….

  • Lance

    Human error yeah like Gen. Mark Walsh, President Obama and his Sec of Defense with more and more blunders and program we don't need!!!

    • sw614

      So are you saying we should let our bomber fleet age out and be replaced by nothing? That long range strike options are not needed not the ability to strike targets overseas with convention weapons from CONUS bases is not an option worth having?

  • Drake1

    That's the federal government for you, no accountability whatsoever. Now let's give them more money.

  • Conradswims

    Well that is good news. Except the congress of "Baboons" funded it. So the "Apes" could build it and "Monkey" around with the numbers.

  • Brian B. Mulholland

    Lance, I see you're back to normal. Amazing how many people can't look at a flat tire without convincing themselves that Obama came by with a pick, and put a hole in it.

    What we're seeing has almost nothing to do with Obama at all. The AF will continue to fight internally over the specifications of this project, as do all the services. This will drive the cost up. The contractor (whomever it be) will spread out the subcontracting as widely as possible, thereby insulating the project from Congressional criticism (hey, at least it's in my district.) The real costs will be hidden until, like the F-35, so much money has been spent that the AF can argue that we've spent too much time to go back and fix, or even look at, all the (avoidable) problems we're now experiencing …. and so it goes.

  • Old 391

    I look at it this way: Boeing has not built a bomber since the B-52 in the 60's, it is also behind schedule and over cost on the KC-46 Tanker program. Lockheed has never built a bomber plus it was over budget and behind schedule with both the F-22 and F-35 aircraft. Northrop built a stealth bomber and I guess night still have the tooling and production facilities to build the new bomber, just have to wait and see how hard Boeing and Lockheed cry to congress and the AF to get the program

    • Joe

      Different aircraft needs different tooling!

    • SteveB-70

      Actually, Boeing can rightfully claim 4 intercontinental jet bomber types built in their corporate history:
      B-47 Boeing
      B-52 Boeing
      XB-70 Boeing (initially North American Aviation, then part of Rockwell International which was later bought be Boeing)
      B-1B Boeing (initially part of Rockwell International that was later bought be Boeing)
      Quite a few of which were built since the 60's! A bit over 100 actually..B-1A's and B-1B's, that's about 5X the number of B-2's! But I also have a feeling that Northrop-Grumman is going to win this one, mainly because Lockheed and Boeing are far to busy doing other important programs and there are only so many good Engineers available with US citizenship! Plus, without the B-3 win Northrop-Grumman Aviation is running real low on big projects.

      • blight_asdf

        Indeed, without a major trough to eat at NG might merge into either LM or Boeing. Competition will get even worse.

    • dave brown

      as far as I know, Grumman has never built a bad airplane. every aircraft they built for the Navy has been a huge success, all the way from the F2F through the years to the F14 and the A6 Intruder. I hope Northrop Grumman gets this contract.

  • Weaponhead

    F-35 was off by $180B and nobody in Congress bats an eye. A bomber that can actually reach target with a meaningful payload is off by $10B and its a crisis? Delete a few F-35s and cover the difference.

    • tmarks11

      It is off by $10B now… while it is just a powerpoint slide.

      Give it some time. It too can be off by $180B when it is actually in production.

      • blight_

        The cost estimates on powerpoint are meaningless anyways…might as well give ourselves a range of an order of magnitude in either direction of their "best guess". But mostly skewed upwards. When was the last time a project came in an order of magnitude cheaper?

  • Brian B. Mulholland

    I doubt the tooling for the B-2 will matter. Artists' impressions of a possible LRS-B are all over the place, but a straightforward duplication of the B-2 isn't likely. The bigger tradeoffs are administrative. Neither Boeing nor LM are anywhere near price, performance or schedule on anything they're doing for the military. LM just ate Sikorsky, which will consume substantial managerial attention. Boeing is starting to get ducks in a row on the 787 but has a major new iteration of the 777 in the near future. Unfortunately, the two of them have a capitalization five times that of Northrup Grumman, with K street money to spend that vastly outweighs NG's capacity.

  • Big-D

    it's no wonder we all call you the air farce, a few billion here and a few billion there-what difference does it make, it's only a 'human error' she says

  • OJO_DOD

    Staffers who make a $24 billion math error are counseled?! How about fired.

    • Drake1

      They should pass a law that if you're lack of diligence results in a cost overrun, you're banned from working in the defense industry for life. I bet that would straighten these guys out with a quickness.

  • Kevin

    Deer bandit would like to blame everything on the Obama administration. The Air Force didn't want th F-35, but it was forced on them by republicans. Big-D makes fun of the service, but most ground troops don't complain when they need the air support. And also ignores the billions spent on ineffective vehicles in Iraq and Afghanistan. As an old nuke troop, I am very familiar with the B52, and its capabilities. There is need for an upgraded version of the long range bomber. Unless we want to become an isolated country again, and that hasn't worked out well in the past.

    • blight_

      "The Air Force didn't want th F-35, but it was forced on them by republicans. "

      Where do you get this?

  • Dfens

    Human error, that's the same thing that causes every one of their airplane crashes.

  • blight_asdf

    These numbers are all estimates anyways. I wonder if it'd be cheaper to re-open the B-2 line at this point. A serious revision would be needed in the coatings to reduce maintenance costs. it's also big enough such that large wavelength radar will have issues picking it up.

    This will probably be a Lockheed vs Northrop game anyways. It will be a re-match of the ATB competition.

    • sw614

      Not sure if it would be cheaper, although the B-2 tooling was kept. The LSR-B is supposed to learn from other stealth programs and be easier and less expensive to maintain and operate. If they can pull that off, then press on with LSR-B.

      • blight_asdf

        So they say. I would hope they would trial out whatever expensive avionics they are planning on putting into LRS-B in the B-2 first, instead of trying to lump it into the procurement of LRS-B to "protect" it as an additional revenue stream. Subsidizing development costs by giving our wealthy Middle Eastern "friends" the best avionics their petrodollars can buy will probably be the way of the future.

  • Rickaroo

    Just another of many scandals in the Air Force since Obama appointed Deborah Lee James as the SECAF. Once again, it's proven she's in way over her head and hasn't the skills to manage a convenience store, much less an agency of the Department of Defense.

  • OJO_DOD

    mistake or manipulation? the higher ups are more negligent that the errant staffers because a top official is also responsible to CHALLENGE numbers/facts before relying on them. Someone who does not care if the facts are true is called a lobbyist.

  • omegatalon

    This is the same type of human error which said the F-35 would be cheaper than the F-16 even when the F-22 demonstrated to be much more expensive than pre-production estimates; but hindsight being 20-20, the DoD probably wished they bought more than just the handful of B-2 and F-22 when they had the chance.

    • blight_asdf

      Perhaps we should start making the contractors liable for the overages. There's no incentive to be conservative in designs, since the expectation of mass production in wartime apparently no longer exists.

  • MarkE8Ret

    Let's see, we are barely at the first step and it's already being cost inflated… why wait for the contractors, eh?

    • Tom Clancy, Jr.,

      Agreed, "MarkE8Ret"…. Good idea. Let's just budget EACH bomber at, say, $500BILLION….
      Then, by the time they're actually built, and delivered, we should have at least SOME cost savings….
      Of course, we can always budget them for $1TRILLION each, and *DOUBLE* our savings….
      I sure hope the DoD & the JCS are monitoring our work here, my friend….
      Isn't it amazing the great work we Americans can do, when we put our heads together?
      Happy Thor's Day, my friend….. ;)
      ~silentum~;~excubitor~
      (c)2015, Tom Clancy, Jr., *NON-fiction