Pentagon must justify continuing UAV programme
Twenty-five of the USA’s major weapons programmes have experienced “critical” cost growth, although few, if any, face the risk of cancellation. But the US Department of Defense will have to justify continuing the Northrop Grumman RQ-4 Global Hawk unmanned air vehicle programme after it breached cost growth thresholds. The Pentagon has until 5 June to certify that the UAV is vital to national security, no alternatives exist and costs are under control.
Changes in reporting requirements have forced the Pentagon to acknowledge massive growth in projected costs across a wide range of programmes. New rules mandated by Congress require the DoD to report unit cost growth over the original estimate at the time the system entered development, while retaining the requirement to report cost growth over the current baseline estimate.
Cost growth is deemed critical if it exceeds 25% of the current baseline or 50% of the original estimate, and “significant” if it exceeds 15% and 30%, respectively. Under the new rules, 25 of 85 major weapon systems in the DoD’s latest quarterly selected acquisition report have experienced critical cost growth.
Many of the DoD’s major aircraft programmes have experienced unit cost increases over original estimaes of more than 50%, including the Bell H-1 upgrade; Bell Boeing V-22; Boeing C-17, AH-64D and CH-47F; Lockheed Martin F-22 and MH-60R; and Sikorsky UH-60M. Raytheon’s AMRAAM and JSOW missiles and Lockheed’s Advanced Extremely High Frequency and Space-Based Infrared System-High satellites are also listed.
Another 11 programmes have unit costs 30-50% over their original estimates. These include Boeing’s F/A-18E/F Super Hornet and C-130 Avionics Modernisation Programme upgrade; Lockheed’s F-35 Joint Strike Fighter and JASSM stealthy cruise missile; Raytheon’s T-6 Texan Joint Primary Aircraft Training System; and Sikorsky’s MH-60S.
Most seriously, the high-altitude, long-endurance Global Hawk UAV’s unit cost is more than 25% over the current baseline estimate, raising the termination threat from Congress. The DoD says correcting design deficiencies and extending development, plus capability improvements, sensor retrofits and quantity increases, pushed the estimated programme cost up by 19% between September and December 2005. The US Air Force says the latest restructuring of the RQ-4B programme, due for DoD approval in May, will set a new baseline.
GRAHAM WARWICK / WASHINGTON DC