By Tony Capaccio
Thursday, March 8, 2007
Four of the Air Force's largest transport plane programs are behind schedule and over their target cost by a total of almost $1 billion, federal auditors said yesterday.
Three Lockheed Martin programs and one Boeing program are still in early stages, and their combined cost is already $962 million, or more than 35 percent, over the target of $2.7 billion, William M. Solis and Michael Sullivan, analysts at the Government Accountability Office, told a panel of the House Armed Services Committee. The cost growth must be stemmed, they said, because the service has budgeted about $12 billion for the programs.
These programs do not "involve huge technological leaps," yet all four "failed at basic systems-engineering practices," the analysts said jointly in a prepared statement.
Their testimony is the most comprehensive assessment to date of programs to upgrade the avionics, or electronic devices, and engines in Lockheed Martin C-5 cargo planes and to develop a new version of its C-130. Boeing is also updating the avionics in existing C-130 planes.
Most of the attention on Air Force programs has focused on the more complex technology in fighter and satellite programs, so the GAO testimony is a reminder that less-sophisticated programs in the Air Force inventory are also troubled.
In the cargo plane programs, the companies and the Air Force "failed to fully understand" the time and money needed "to integrate proven commercial technologies, achieve a stable design" and demonstrate "the aircraft would work as required before making large production investments," the analysts said.
Thomas Jurkowsky, spokesman for Lockheed of Bethesda, defended each aircraft program. The C-5 planes with the new avionics have flown more than 8,300 hours in Iraq, and "feedback from the Air Force is that the system is performing exceptionally well," he said in an e-mail.
The C-130J, which has been criticized by the Pentagon inspector general and lawmakers such as Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), "has exceeded 340,000 flight hours worldwide performing airdrop, air-to-air refueling, ground refueling and humanitarian relief," he said. Jurkowsky did not comment on the GAO's findings on schedule delays and cost overruns.
Madonna Walsh, a spokeswoman for Boeing of Chicago, said the company and the Air Force "underestimated the complexity" of the C-130 upgrade program.
"This led to delays in the original schedule," she said. "We were able to overcome earlier challenges, and the program is now performing extremely well."