F/A-18E/F Aircraft Production Decision Should Be Postponed

Published by the Government Accountability Office on 1997-03-04.

Below is a raw (and likely hideous) rendition of the original report. (PDF)

 A    United States
      General Accounting Office
      Washington, D.C. 20548

      National Security and
      International Affairs Division


      March 4, 1997

      The Honorable William S. Cohen
      The Secretary of Defense

      Subject: F/A-18E/F Aircraft Production Decision Should Be Postponed

      Dear Mr. Secretary:

      In June 1996, we reported that the F/A-18E/F would cost more than the Navy
      estimated and would not provide significant operational performance
      advantages over the less expensive C/D model of the aircraft. Therefore, we
      recommended that instead of procuring the F/A-18E/F, the Department of
      Defense (DOD) should procure additional F/A-18C/Ds. As a result of our report,
      the Congress directed you to conduct an analysis of the F/A-18E/F aircraft
      program comparing the costs and combat operational effectiveness of the F/A-
      18E/F with those of the F/A-18C/D aircraft. In addition, the Quadrennial
      Defense Review (QDR) is evaluating all weapon system programs. The purpose
      of this letter is to suggest that you postpone the low-rate initial production
      decision on the F/A-18E/F, currently scheduled for March 28, 1997, until these
      two congressionally mandated studies have been completed.

      The National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 1997 (P.L. 104-201, Sec.
      219) and the fiscal year 1997 appropriations conference report (HR 104-863)
      require a cost-benefit analyses of the F/A-18E/F prograin. The results of those
      analyses are to be reported to the congressional defense committees not later
      than March 30, 1997, according to the authorization act, and not later than
      April 15, 1997, according to the appropriations conference report. DOD was
      directed to provide the following information in its report.

      (1) A review of the F/A-18E/F program.

      (2) An analysis and estimate of the production costs of the program for the
      total number of aircraft expected to be procured at each of the following annual
      production rates:

                                            GAO/NSIAD-97-106R F/A-18E/F Production

           (A)   18   aircraft;.
           (B)   24   aircrafts.
           (C)   36   aircraft.
           (D)   48   aircraft.

(3) A comparison of the costs and benefits of the program with the costs and
benefits of the F/A-18C/I) aircraft program, taking into account the operational
combat effectiveness of the aircraft.'

The authorization act limited the amount of funds that could be obligated or
expended for procurement of the F/A-18E/F until 30 days after the mandated
report was received by the congressional defense committees.

We are concerned that DOD plans to make the low-rate initial production
decision for the E/F prior to its submission of the required analyses to the
Congress for its consideration. We view the Fiscal Year 1997 Authorization
Act's and the appropriations conference report's reporting mandates as clear
evidence of the Congress' desire that a valid cost-benefit comparison of the F/A-
18C/D and E/F aircraft support a production decision for the F/A-18E/F aircraft.
The desire for congressional input about such a decision is also clear from the
authorization act's limitation on obligations and expenditures until after the
required DOD report is received by the congressional defense committees.
Consequently, DOD's current plan to decide on F/A-18E/F production before the
reports are due to the Congress prevents possible congressional input based on
a review of the required analyses. In addition, the completion and evaluation of
the QDR could have a major impact on DOD's tactical aircraft modernization

In summary, a process has been established through the congressionally
mandated analyses of the F/A-18E/F program and the QDR that, if permitted to
be taken to completion, represents a sound approach to deciding whether the
F/A-18E/F is the most cost-effective approach to modernizing the Navy's tactical
aircraft fleet. We urge you to take the necessary steps to ensure that the results
of that process are available and fully considered before deciding on whether to
produce the F/A-18E/F aircraft.

'The Fiscal Year 1997 Authorization Act contained almost identical
requirements, but based annual production rates on 18, 24, and 36 aircraft.

2                                      GAO/NSIAD-97-106R F/A-18E/F Production

We would appreciate your response to the issues discussed in this letter within
30 days. We are sending copies of this letter to appropriate congressional
committees; the Under Secretary of Defense, Acquisition and Technology; the
Secretary of the Navy, and other interested parties.

If you or your designee have questions or would like to discuss this matter
further, please contact me at (202) 512-4841.

Sincerely yours,

 ouis J. drigues
Director, Defense cquisitions Issues


3                                      GAO/NSIAD-97-106R F/A-18E/F Production