GAO Cites Spiraling Costs Of New Weapons Programs

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By Walter Pincus
Monday, July 7, 2008

The major weapons systems being developed and produced by the Defense Department will require $1.6 trillion to complete and $335 billion over the next five years -- money that may not be available because of the continuing cost of military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, according to a new report by the Government Accountability Office.

In a follow-up to a report conducted last year, which found that the Pentagon "consistently commits to more programs than it can support," the GAO presses for more effective management of weapons systems. The current ones have "cost increases that add up to hundreds of millions of dollars, schedule delays that add up to years, and capabilities that fall short of what was promised," the report concludes.

The GAO also found that funding problems were largely the result of accepting unrealistic original cost estimates -- in some cases 30 to 40 percent below current projections -- caused mainly by "optimistic assumptions about system requirements and critical technologies."

Global Hawk, for example, is an unmanned, remotely piloted, high-altitude surveillance and reconnaissance aircraft. It can operate as much as 3,000 nautical miles from its launch area and can loiter over a target for 24 hours at altitudes greater than 60,000 feet.

The original development estimate for the newest version, now called the RQ-4B, was $900 million; the first review increased that prediction to $967 million. The current estimate is $3.15 billion, according to the GAO.

The Air Force originally assumed that new requirements could be met with minor additions to a smaller version, the RQ-4A. But a year later, it was determined that "a larger airframe and additional, unproven technologies would be needed," the report said. That almost tripled development costs and extended the time frame from seven years to 12, the GAO wrote.

The Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle (EFV), an armored amphibious vehicle for the Marine Corps, is capable of carrying Marines from Navy ships located beyond the visual horizon at speeds of up to 25 knots. It can also travel 45 mph on land. Its original estimated development cost was about $1.1 billion, but it is expected to cost nearly $3.6 billion.

The Warfighter Information Network-Tactical (WIN-T) is the Army's newest tactical telecommunications system. It is mobile, secure and capable of supporting multimedia information systems. The Army estimated that its development would cost $338 million. It is now expected to cost more than $2 billion, or nearly $1.7 billion more than initially believed.

The Army thought the radios and software for the WIN-T system would be commercially available. Once system development started, the GAO report says, "the Army learned that the radios and software would require significantly more development and integration than initially anticipated."

The GAO concludes that if this trend "goes unchecked and fiscal pressures to reduce spending continue to grow as expected, Congress will be faced with a difficult choice to either pull funds from other federal programs to support Defense acquisitions or accept less warfighting capability than promised."

National security and intelligence reporter Walter Pincus pores over the speeches, reports, transcripts and other documents that flood Washington and every week uncovers the fine print that rarely makes headlines -- but should. If you have any items that fit the bill, please send them to fineprint@washpost.com.


© 2008 The Washington Post Company

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