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Air Force Shrugs Off $25 Billion Accounting Error

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Jonah Bennett Contributor

Air Force leaders didn’t seem fazed recently when lawmakers pointed out that the service completely miscalculated the cost of its secretive Long-Range Strike Bomber program to the tune of $27 billion.

In 2014, Air Force leadership estimated that the bomber, likely to be labeled the B-3, would cost approximately $33.1 billion from 2015 to 2024. That estimate was totally wrong. This year, the new figure, for fiscal years 2016 to 2026, jumped to $58.2 billion. That’s an increase of 76 percent.

But in fact, the real cost for both fiscal periods, the Air Force noted, is $41.7 billion.

“There has been no change in the costing factors over the last two years … it was a mistake. It was a regrettable mistake,” Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James said, according to Fiscal Times.

James placed the blame both on human and process error, since someone involved in the process simply did the math wrong. Air Force chief of staff Gen. Mark Welsh also brushed off the mistake.

“We were surprised by the number when we saw it as well once it had been pointed out to us that it looked like the number had grown because we’ve been using the same number, it has not changed,” Welsh said.

But lawmakers in Congress aren’t willing to let the Air Force slide on yet another case of cost-overruns, given similar problems that plagued programs like the F-22 Raptor and the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter.

Democratic Rep. Jackie Speier, a noted critic of the bomber, wrote a letter to James, asking for a much more detailed explanation of how exactly the service erred.

“This sudden 76 percent increase in estimated cost is alarming, because it raises questions about the management of a crucial program that lacks transparency, on which we cannot afford serious cost overruns, development errors, and reduced production numbers that would deprive the United States of one of its core military capabilities,” Speier, the ranking member of the House Armed Services Committee’s Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations, wrote.

The Air Force will likely purchase between 80 and 100 bombers. Currently, the per unit cost is estimated at $550 million, but that figure relies on 2010 dollars and assumes the Air Force will buy all 100 planes.

T.X. Hammes, a U.S. National Defense University research fellow, stated that per unit costs may rise to $3 billion, saying that the current figure is nothing but a “wild fantasy.”

Cost-overruns are often a common feature of weapon acquisitions, mostly because providing low estimates and fast-paced schedule increase the likelihood of purchasing the weapon.

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