If you want to know the definition of the word "boondoggle," take a look at big defense projects like the F-22 Raptor, the littoral combat ship, and of course, history's most expensive weapons system, the F-35 Lightning II. The new B-21 bomber could be the next in that, um, esteemed list.
While it's still too early to put a final price tag on the program's overall cost, the program has already awarded a $21 billion contract. And that's only a fraction of the total cost – according to a new story on Foxtrot Alpha, each B-21 is expected to cost $560 million, and the USAF wants 100 of them. So, there we have an estimated $76 billion, and that's only the costs that have been made public. It's likely the total price to Joe Taxpayer will get higher. But is there a way this particular boondoggle-in-development can be avoided?
Foxtrot Alpha recruited defense journalist Kelsey D. Atherton to pose three questions that need to be asked of the B-21 so that we could avoid another trillion-dollar calamity like the F-35: How many states are building the B-21? How ready is the software? What role does secrecy play in its development?
There are varying reasons behind each question, each of which is something that absolutely should be asked. Why does it matter where it's being built? Building in multiple states keeps congress from wanting to rock the boat, but can increase costs and lead to reliability problems. Software problems, meanwhile, have been a thorn in the side of previous Air Force programs, like the F-22. Making sure all the gremlins are worked out of the computers before we start screwing aircraft together will save time and money down the line. And secrecy? To quote Atherton, "Congress should use its behind-closed-door hearings on the B-21 to make sure that what is kept secret is crucial to how it works, and that the acquisition program isn't just keeping facts from the public because it can."
You can check out Atherton's entire report over at Foxtrot Alpha.