Auditors Defend Pentagon for Skipping Bids on B-2 Upgrades

A U.S. B-2 strategic bomber taxis down a runway in 2005 at Andersen Air Force Base in Guam. The Government Accountability office backed a Pentagon decision not to pursue a competitive process for planned updates to B-2 bombers.
National Journal
Diane Barnes
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Diane Barnes
April 23, 2014, 10:50 a.m.

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.

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