Congressional investigators said the Defense Department was right to skip a competitive process for planned updates to B-2 strategic bombers.
Technologies to update the nuclear-capable aircraft were already far along in their development, and Pentagon data reveals little room to save money by soliciting more proposals from companies, universities or agencies, according to a Government Accountability Office analysis issued on Tuesday.
The planned upgrades focus on the airplane's "defensive management system," designed to track enemy radar and alert crew members to possible threats, according to the GAO assessment.
The Defense Department informed legislative auditors in December of its intention not to pursue "competitive prototyping" for certain upgrades planned for the B-2 system, the report indicates. A 2009 law requires legislative auditors to scrutinize any Defense Department decision to skip the process, which can sometimes reduce expenses and the likelihood of technical problems, the document indicates.
The findings note that prime contractor Northrop Grumman accepted bids from other firms as it hired subcontractors for the B-2 project.
Developers would make use of "existing, technically mature subsystems" for two of the upgrade project's three main components, and Northrop Grumman used a competitive prototyping process to develop new antennas for the airplane, authors of the GAO study said.
The Air Force reviewed four "prototyping options" and determined they "would increase the program's development costs by between $28.2 million and $524.8 million [in base year 2011 dollars] depending on the type and number of prototypes," the report states.