B-2 Bomber: Cost and Operational Issues

Published by the Government Accountability Office on 1997-08-14.

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

                   United States General Accounting Office

GAO                Report to Congressional Committees

August 1997
                   B-2 Bomber
                   Cost and Operational

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

             National Security and
             International Affairs Division


             August 14, 1997

             Congressional Committees

             The conference report on the National Defense Authorization Act for
             Fiscal Year 1994 requires us to report to the congressional defense
             committees at regular intervals on the total acquisition costs of the B-2
             bomber through the completion of the production program. The Air Force
             is currently testing the B-2 and plans to complete the production program,
             including planned block 30 modifications, by July 2000. This, our fourth
             report,1 provides the current status of cost and operational issues.

             B-2 operational requirements specify that the weapon system have
Background   “low-observable” (stealth) characteristics and sufficient range and payload
             capability to deliver precision-guided conventional or nuclear weapons
             anywhere in the world with enhanced survivability. The B-2 combines
             conventional and state-of-the-art technology, such as special shaping and
             radar-absorbing materials, to achieve low-observability characteristics,
             high aerodynamic efficiency, and a large payload capacity. The blending of
             these technologies makes the aircraft complex and costly to develop,
             produce, and in some respects maintain.

             In the early 1990s, the number of B-2s to be acquired was reduced from
             132 to 20 operational aircraft. The 20 aircraft include 15 production
             aircraft and 5 of 6 test aircraft that are to be modified to a fully capable
             operational configuration. In March 1996, the President directed that the
             one remaining test aircraft be upgraded to a fully capable operational
             configuration, bringing the total operational B-2s to be acquired to 21.

             B-2 development started in 1981. Production of long lead-time aircraft
             components began in 1986 and flight testing was initiated in 1989. The
             lengthy development and test program, which has been implemented
             concurrently with the production program for about 11 years, required the
             Air Force to devise a mechanism for initially accepting partially capable
             aircraft until their full capability could be demonstrated in the test
             program. Therefore, the Air Force agreed to accept the 15 production
             aircraft in 3 configurations—10 in a training configuration, 3 in an interim
             configuration, and 2 in the fully capable configuration known as block 30.
             The block 30 configuration is planned to be the first fully capable

              The three prior reports are listed at the end of this report.

             Page 1                                                           GAO/NSIAD-97-181 B-2 Bomber

                   configuration that would meet all the essential employment capabilities2
                   defined by the Air Force.

                   All aircraft not delivered in the block 30 configuration, including test
                   aircraft, have to be modified extensively to make them fully capable. Some
                   of the aircraft in a training configuration have been modified to an interim
                   configuration. The modification efforts began in 1995 and are scheduled to
                   be complete in July 2000. The total production period for the 21 aircraft,
                   including modifications to bring all B-2s into the fully capable
                   configuration, is expected to be about 14 years. Flight testing was planned
                   to take 4 years but has taken about 8 years and is not yet completed. The
                   Air Force extended the estimated completion of flight testing from July
                   1997 to March 1998.

                   The total cost of the B-2 appears to have stabilized. The Air Force has
Results in Brief   reported that the total estimated B-2 acquisition costs (development,
                   procurement, and military construction) decreased from $44,946 million in
                   early 1995 to $44,754 million in early 1997. The estimated cost declined
                   even though Congress added new requirements to the B-2 program and
                   provided additional funds of $734 million in fiscal years 1995, 1996, and
                   1997. Air Force officials advised us that the $44,754 million in cost
                   reported to Congress was understated by $89 million. They said that the
                   impact of the understatement would be that two of the test aircraft would
                   not be fully upgraded to block 30 (making them less than fully capable).
                   Through fiscal year 1997, Congress appropriated funds for about 96
                   percent of the estimated total cost of $44,754 million.

                   Although the cost estimate has not changed substantially since 1995, costs
                   could increase if (1) the flight test program is extended beyond
                   March 1998, (2) more performance deficiencies than predicted are
                   identified during the remaining portions of the acquisition program, and
                   (3) unplanned development and procurement activities become necessary
                   to better maintain the low-observable features of the B-2s.

                   The Air Force declared on April 1, 1997, that the B-2s in an interim
                   configuration had achieved initial operational capability. However, the Air
                   Force decided it was unrealistic to plan on deploying the interim aircraft
                   to forward operating locations because of difficulties being experienced in
                   maintaining low-observable characteristics at the B-2’s main operating

                    Essential employment capabilities are the characteristics and capabilities required by the Air Force to
                   satisfy the full operational spectrum of the B-2.

                   Page 2                                                               GAO/NSIAD-97-181 B-2 Bomber

                                             base. The Air Force is reviewing specific B-2 deployment requirements and
                                             working to resolve deployment-related problems by the time the B-2s are
                                             scheduled to be fully capable in 1999.

                                             The Air Force’s estimate of the total program cost for the B-2 program has
Total Cost of the B-2                        changed less than 1 percent since 1994; however, the estimate has been
Appears to Have                              affected by changes made by both Congress and the Air Force. Table 1.1
Stabilized                                   shows the Air Force’s 1994-96 cost estimates for the development,
                                             procurement, and military construction of the B-2 as reported in annual
                                             selected acquisition reports. Through fiscal year 1997, the Air Force was
                                             appropriated $43,178 million, or 96 percent, of the $44,754 million total
                                             program estimate. This leaves $1,576 million to be appropriated for fiscal
                                             years 1998-2004.

Table 1.1: Estimated B-2 Acquisition Costs
Then-year dollars in millions
                                                                     Development                                       Total      Total program
                                                                              and               Military         acquisition                unit
                                                   Operational       procurement           construction            program           acquisition
Selected acquisition report                   aircraft quantity          estimate             estimate             estimate                 cost
Dec. 1994                                                     20            $44,390                 $556             $44,946               $2,247
Dec. 1995                                                     20            $44,760                 $550             $45,310               $2,265
Dec. 1996                                                     21            $44,200                 $554             $44,754               $2,131
                                             Note: Details of the fiscal year 1998 President’s budget for the B-2 are included in appendix 1.

                                             Source: B-2 Selected Acquisition Reports.

                                             The December 1996 estimate included costs to complete the program for
                                             20 operational B-2s and other changes in the program. In the last 3 fiscal
                                             years, Congress added $734 million to the B-2 program—$125 million to
                                             preserve the B-2 industrial base, $493 million to upgrade the first test
                                             aircraft to operational status, and $116 million to enhance the block 30
                                             capabilities. Enhanced capabilities include making the B-2 capable of
                                             launching the Joint Stand Off Weapon and a near-precision conventional
                                             penetrating bomb.

                                             The Air Force changes decreased various elements of the estimated
                                             development and procurement costs. Those decreases exceeded
                                             congressional additions, resulting in the overall net reduction in the total
                                             B-2 cost estimate. For example, between fiscal year 1997 and 1998,

                                             Page 3                                                             GAO/NSIAD-97-181 B-2 Bomber

                                estimates for B-2 spares, support, and nonrecurring air vehicle cost
                                decreased over $900 million. Spare parts estimates were reduced by
                                $358 million because the Air Force now plans to fly fewer and shorter
                                aircraft sorties and because the methodology for computing spare parts
                                requirements changed. Interim contractor support estimates were also
                                reduced by $142 million because parts reliability, according to the Air
                                Force, has been better than anticipated. Other support decreases totaling
                                $170 million covered peculiar support equipment, data, and training items.
                                In addition to changes in the B-2 support estimate, the Air Force decreased
                                its estimate for nonrecurring air vehicle cost by $237 million.

                                According to the Air Force, the estimate of development cost reported in
                                the December 1996 B-2 Selected Acquisition Report (included in
                                table 1.1) and the fiscal year 1998 President’s budget (app. I) is
                                understated by $89 million. Air Force officials said that without these
                                funds, two of the test aircraft would not be upgraded to fully capable
                                aircraft, leaving only 19 fully capable B-2s.

                                B-2 estimated costs could increase if (1) the flight test program is
B-2 Cost Increases              extended beyond March 1998, (2) more B-2 performance deficiencies are
Are Possible                    identified during the time remaining in the acquisition program, and
                                (3) additional development and procurement activities are initiated to
                                better maintain the low-observable features of the B-2s.

Extending the Flight Test       The flight test program was not fully completed as scheduled on July 1,
Program                         1997, and the Air Force plans to extend flight testing with one test aircraft
                                through March 1998. The Air Force is currently defining detailed testing
                                that will be required and has included $28 million in the fiscal year 1998
                                budget to cover the extended flight test program. Any additional extension
                                of testing, however, could increase the estimated B-2 cost. Some of the
                                areas to be further tested are

                            •   terrain-following/terrain-avoidance radar performance in the rain,
                            •   mission effectiveness tests of the low-observable features,
                            •   ground and flight tests of the environmental control system and auxiliary
                                power units, and
                            •   certain tests of the defensive management system.

                                We plan to report on the results of B-2 testing after the Air Force issues
                                reports scheduled for late 1997 and early 1998.

                                Page 4                                             GAO/NSIAD-97-181 B-2 Bomber

Other Deficiencies     Working on flight tests, aircraft production, and modifications
                       concurrently has created the need for further corrections of deficiencies
                       after fully capable aircraft are delivered and could cause development
                       costs to increase. As of May 1997, the Air Force officials had identified
                       13 corrections that cannot be incorporated into up to nine aircraft during
                       production or during the modification process. They estimate another
                       60 deficiencies could be identified that could impact the B-2s. These
                       officials added that new corrections that cannot be incorporated during
                       the modification process would be incorporated by retrofitting the aircraft
                       at some future time. The cost estimate for production includes over
                       $500 million in reserves (fiscal year 1993 and prior year funds) that are
                       available for cost overruns and other anticipated costs. However, the
                       development estimate includes only $12 million in reserves to correct
                       deficiencies in the test aircraft. Air Force officials said that if significantly
                       more or costly deficiencies are identified, development costs could

Deployment and         The Air Force has concluded it could not effectively deploy B-2s to
Low-Observable         forward operating locations without sheltering the aircraft to preserve and
Maintenance            maintain its low-observable features. Accordingly, if permanent or
                       temporary shelters must be developed and built at selected forward
                       operation locations or additional support equipment must be acquired to
                       meet deployment and maintenance requirements, additional costs will be

                       According to the Air Force, the B-2 achieved initial operational capability
Initial Operating      on April 1, 1997, with interim aircraft capable of flying nuclear and limited
Capability Achieved,   conventional missions. The interim B-2 is supposed to be capable of
but B-2 Cannot Be      participating in nuclear or conventional warfare either from its main
                       operating base at Whiteman Air Force Base, Missouri, or from a forward
Deployed as Planned    operating location outside the continental United States. While the B-2’s
                       performance met requirements for initial operations, the aircraft are
                       unable to meet intended deployment requirements because some
                       low-observable features require substantial maintenance and the aircraft
                       are more sensitive to climate and moisture than expected. As a result, the
                       Air Force has eliminated the deployment requirement for interim aircraft
                       and is evaluating potential actions to allow deployment when fully capable
                       aircraft are delivered. Full operational capability of the B-2 is planned to
                       be achieved in 1999.

                       Page 5                                                GAO/NSIAD-97-181 B-2 Bomber

Initial Operational         The Air Force demonstrated that interim B-2 aircraft can carry and deliver
Capabilities Demonstrated   unguided Mk 84 bombs or the precision-guided Global Positioning System
                            (GPS) aided munition (GAM) in the conventional role or B-83/B-61 nuclear
                            weapons in the nuclear role. Reports of flight tests and demonstrations
                            indicated the GAM to be an effective all-weather weapon in attacking fixed
                            targets with near-precision accuracy. In one demonstration, 3 B-2s
                            destroyed 16 targets using 16 GAMs dropped from over 40,000 feet. In
                            addition, the interim aircraft have automatic terrain-following capability as
                            low as 600 feet and some of the capabilities of the planned defensive
                            management system. According to Air Force officials, the demonstrated
                            capabilities are more than adequate to perform the mission defined for the
                            interim configuration when operating from Whiteman Air Force Base, the
                            B-2’s main operating base.

B-2s Cannot Be Deployed     The Air Force decided it was unrealistic to deploy the B-2 without shelters,
as Planned                  as planned, because some low-observable materials are not as durable as
                            expected and require lengthy maintenance, some in an environmentally
                            controlled shelter after each flight. In addition, B-2s must be kept in
                            shelters because of their sensitivity to moisture, water, and other severe
                            climatic conditions. Air Force operational requirements for the B-2
                            intended for both the interim and fully capable B-2s to be capable of
                            deploying to forward operating locations, without shelters, in all types of
                            weather and climates. The Air Force is reviewing specific B-2 deployment
                            requirements and working to resolve deployment-related problems by the
                            time the B-2s are scheduled to be fully capable in 1999.

                            The operational test report for the interim aircraft stated the aircraft need
                            frequent and lengthy maintenance and are sensitive to extreme climates
                            and moisture. Tests showed that some low-observable materials on the
                            aircraft were damaged each time the aircraft flew and that repair of those
                            materials accounted for 39 percent of the 80 maintenance man-hours per
                            flight hour experienced by the B-2 during flight testing. This is about three
                            times greater than the next largest contributor to maintenance man-hours,
                            which was aircraft structures. The current goal for total maintenance
                            man-hours per flying hour is 60 hours, and the ultimate goal is 50 hours.
                            The actual B-2 maintenance man-hours per flying hour at Whiteman Air
                            Force Base averaged 124 hours over 12 months ending in March 1997. A
                            major factor in maintenance of low-observable materials is the long time
                            required to repair the damaged materials and aircraft surfaces. During
                            operational testing of the interim configuration, low-observable materials
                            took from 30 to 80 hours to repair and cure, and the processes require a

                            Page 6                                             GAO/NSIAD-97-181 B-2 Bomber

                  shelter with a temperature and humidity controlled environment for
                  proper curing.

                  Problems with low-observable materials have also affected the percentage
                  of time the B-2 was partially or fully capable of completing a mission,
                  which was significantly less when low observability was considered. When
                  low observability was not considered, the mission-capable rate was
                  66 percent for a 12-month period ending March 1997. However, when
                  low-observability problems were considered for the same period of time,
                  the rate dropped significantly to 26 percent.

                  Testing indicated that B-2s are also sensitive to extreme climates, water,
                  and humidity—exposure to water or moisture can damage some of the
                  low-observable enhancing surfaces on the aircraft. Further, exposure to
                  water or moisture that causes water to accumulate in aircraft
                  compartments, ducts, and valves can cause systems to malfunction. If
                  accumulated water freezes, it can take up to 24 hours to thaw and drain.
                  Air Force officials said it is unlikely that the aircraft’s sensitivity to
                  moisture and climates or the need for controlled environments to fix
                  low-observability problems will ever be fully resolved, even with improved
                  materials and repair processes. Therefore, if B-2s are to be deployed, some
                  form of aircraft sheltering at a forward operating location will likely
                  become a requirement in the future.

                  Air Force test officials stated that maintenance of low-observable features
                  is an issue that requires significant further study and that the percentage of
                  maintenance hours required to repair low-observable materials would
                  increase even more before there are reductions. They said technological
                  improvements in materials and repair processes will be required. Air
                  Combat Command considers low-observable maintainability to be its
                  number one supportability issue, and the Air Force has efforts underway
                  to develop new materials, procedures, and support equipment. It is
                  currently changing some of the materials on the aircraft to improve
                  durability and reduce repair times. It has also established procedures to
                  monitor conditions of low-observable materials on the operational aircraft
                  and developed a model that characterizes the operational impacts of
                  material degradations so that repairs can be prioritized relative to the
                  operational requirements of the B-2s.

                  In commenting on a draft of this report, the Department of Defense
Agency Comments   generally agreed with the report. The Department’s comments are

                  Page 7                                             GAO/NSIAD-97-181 B-2 Bomber

              presented in their entirety in appendix II, along with our evaluation of

              To identify cost issues, we reviewed annual cost and budgetary estimates,
Scope and     financial and management reports, contract cost reports, program
Methodology   schedules and plans, and other documents. We compared annual estimates
              from 1995 to 1997, identifying increases and decreases and the basis for
              the changes. We interviewed Air Force, Defense Contract Management
              Command, and contractor financial and technical mangers to obtain
              explanations and information on cost issues and risks remaining in the B-2
              program that were not included in the official reports and documents
              reviewed. To identify operational issues, we reviewed Air Force B-2
              contract and operational requirements documents and operational test
              reports. We discussed deficiencies and planned development and
              corrective actions with Air Force B-2 Program, Test, and Operational
              Command officials to determine the nature and extent of problems, the
              impact of problems on operations, and schedules for achieving full

              We performed our review from November 1996 through July 1997 in
              accordance with generally accepted government auditing standards.

              We are sending copies of this report to the Secretaries of Defense and the
              Air Force, the Director of the Office of Management and Budget, and other
              interested parties. We will make copies available to others upon request.

              Page 8                                             GAO/NSIAD-97-181 B-2 Bomber

Please contract me on (202) 512-4841 if you or your staff have any
questions concerning this report. Major contributors to this report are
listed in appendix III.

Louis J. Rodrigues
Director, Defense Acquisitions Issues

Page 9                                            GAO/NSIAD-97-181 B-2 Bomber

List of Congressional Committees

The Honorable Strom Thurmond
The Honorable Carl Levin
Ranking Minority Member
Committee on Armed Services
United States Senate

The Honorable Ted Stevens
The Honorable Daniel K. Inouye
Ranking Minority Member
Subcommittee on Defense
Committee on Appropriations
United States Senate

The Honorable Floyd Spence
The Honorable Ronald V. Dellums
Ranking Minority Member
Committee on National Security
House of Representatives

The Honorable C. W. Bill Young
The Honorable John P. Murtha
Ranking Minority Member
Subcommittee on National Security
Committee on Appropriations
House of Representatives

Page 10                             GAO/NSIAD-97-181 B-2 Bomber
Page 11   GAO/NSIAD-97-181 B-2 Bomber

Letter                                                                                        1

Appendix I                                                                                   14

B-2 Program Fiscal
Year 1998 President’s
Appendix II                                                                                  15

Comments From the
Department of
Appendix III                                                                                 19

Major Contributors to
This Report
Related GAO Products                                                                         20

Table                   Table 1.1: Estimated B-2 Acquisition Costs                            3


                        DOD        Department of Defense
                        GAM        GPS aided munition
                        GPS        Global Positioning System

                        Page 12                                      GAO/NSIAD-97-181 B-2 Bomber
Page 13   GAO/NSIAD-97-181 B-2 Bomber
Appendix I

B-2 Program Fiscal Year 1998 President’s

Then-year dollars in millions
                                                 Fiscal year
                                      1996/prior         1997           1998     1999     2000    2001/04       Total
Development program
Northrop                               $20,268.9       $489.1       $286.5       $15.8   $183.4     $51.8   $21,295.6
GE Engines                                 564.0           4.9             0        0        0         0        568.9
Armament                                   121.2           3.6             0        0        0         0        124.7
Aircrew training                           561.2           0.2             0        0        0         0        561.4
Mission planning                           252.6          21.6           18.8      8.2       0         0        301.2
Government test                            732.7          36.8           28.1     12.2     13.0      40.4       863.0
Other government tests                     573.7           2.3            1.4      0.5      0.5       0.1       579.5
Engineering changes                             0          9.8           14.9      2.4      5.0       2.2        34.3
Direct release                             316.1          27.2            5.9      6.1      7.6       4.9       367.7
Development total                      $23,391.4       $595.5       $355.8       $44.9   $209.5     $99.3   $24,696.3

Procurement program
Air vehicle                            $15,276.8        $38.8           $33.3    $24.3    $49.0     $54.1   $15,476.3
Equipment/data/training                   1,418.3         24.7           26.0      9.9      2.1       1.9     1,482.9
Interim contractor support                 154.6           4.5           44.0     45.6     47.6      10.0       306.3
Spares                                     961.4          35.0           67.9     27.5     26.0      12.7     1,130.5
Retrofit                                   105.5           6.1           13.8     16.3     22.2      44.1       208.0
Other government costs                       90.4          7.1           17.2     17.1     15.4       0.6       147.8
Software support                           400.2           1.1           42.4    127.4       0         0        570.9
Mission support                              12.3         15.1           11.5     11.2      9.4       9.4        68.9
Facilities                                 108.9           3.6             0        0        0         0        112.5
Procurement total                      $18,528.4       $136.0       $255.9      $279.3   $171.7    $132.8   $19,504.1
Military construction total               $526.5             0          $27.1       0        0         0      $553.6
B-2 program total                      $42,446.3       $731.5       $638.8      $324.2   $381.2    $232.1   $44,754.0
                                Source: Air Force B-2 Program Office.

                                Page 14                                                   GAO/NSIAD-97-181 B-2 Bomber
Appendix II

Comments From the Department of Defense

Note: GAO comments
supplementing those in the
report text appear at the
end of this appendix.

                             Page 15   GAO/NSIAD-97-181 B-2 Bomber
                 Appendix II
                 Comments From the Department of Defense

Now on p. 4.

See comment 1.

Now on p. 4.

See comment 2.

Now on p. 5.

See comment 3.

                 Page 16                                   GAO/NSIAD-97-181 B-2 Bomber
                 Appendix II
                 Comments From the Department of Defense

Now on p. 6.

See comment 4.

                 Page 17                                   GAO/NSIAD-97-181 B-2 Bomber
               Appendix II
               Comments From the Department of Defense

               The following are GAO’s comments on the Department of Defense’s (DOD)
               letter, dated July 14, 1997.

               1. DOD officials told us they plan to address the funding shortfall during the
GAO Comments   fiscal year 1999 DOD planning and budgeting process, which is incomplete
               at this time.

               2. Cost growth risks will continue until the extent of changes needed as a
               result of the remaining test effort has been defined by the Air Force and it
               has some assurance that needed changes can be completed with existing
               program resources.

               3. DOD’s comments addressed 13 deficiencies already identified but did not
               address the potential impact of an additional 60 deficiencies that DOD
               suggested could occur. Although the cost estimate for development and
               production includes some provisions for correcting deficiencies that have
               not yet been defined, the amounts included are intended to accommodate
               corrections of deficiencies that are relatively minor. If the Air Force
               identifies any deficiencies that involve significant costs to correct, cost
               estimates could increase.

               4. Design requirements for the B-2 include provisions for the B-2 aircraft to
               be deployed, without shelters, in all types of temperatures and climates.
               The operational test report for the interim B-2 concluded the B-2 must be
               sheltered or exposed only to the most benign environments (low humidity,
               no precipitation, moderate temperatures). According to B-2 Combined
               Test Force officials, permanent shelters at deployed locations are
               required. Therefore, while DOD commented that it is possible to deploy the
               B-2, it appears that effective operations from a forward operation location
               will require additional facilities and equipment not included in the original
               plan. The Air Force is still working to identify these additional

               Page 18                                            GAO/NSIAD-97-181 B-2 Bomber
Appendix III

Major Contributors to This Report

                        David E. Cooper
National Security and   Robert D. Murphy
International Affairs
Division, Washington,
                        Michael J. Hazard
Chicago Field Office    James R. Wilson

                        Joseph E. Dewechter
Los Angeles Field

                        Page 19               GAO/NSIAD-97-181 B-2 Bomber
Related GAO Products

              B-2 Bomber: Status of Efforts to Acquire 21 Operational Aircraft
              (GAO/NSIAD-97-11, Oct. 2, 1996).

              B-2 Bomber: Status of Cost, Development, and Production (GAO/NSIAD-95-164,
              Aug. 4, 1995).

              B-2 Bomber: Cost to Complete 20 Aircraft Is Uncertain (GAO/NSIAD-94-217,
              Sept. 8, 1994).

(707202)      Page 20                                           GAO/NSIAD-97-181 B-2 Bomber
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