The War Hawks’ Latest Price Tag: $1.86 Trillion

June 11th, 2020 - by Aaron Mehta / Defense News & Jared Keller / Task & Purpose

Here’s the Newest Price Tag for DoD’s Arsenal of Equipment

Aaron Mehta / Defense News

WASHINGTON (June 4, 2020) — The Defense Department’s portfolio of 121 key defense acquisition programs now has a price tag of $1.86 trillion, according to a new report by the Government Accountability Office.

The number comes from the GAO’s annual assessment of Pentagon acquisition, delivered to the public on Wednesday. The figure involves a 4 percent increase over the previous year but also factors in, for the first time, 15 major IT investments ($15.1 billion) and 13 middle-tier acquisition programs ($19.5 billion).

The vast majority comes from 93 major defense acquisition programs, or MDAP, worth $1.82 trillion. Of those, 85 MDAPs worth a total of $1.8 trillion are already underway, with the rest expected to enter production in the near future. The $1.8 trillion figure marks the largest level of investment in MDAPs since 2011, and an increase of $44 billion over the department’s 2018 MDAP portfolio.

The current MDAP portfolio has accumulated more than $628 billion in cost growth over the life of its programs — or 54 percent more than the projected cost when programs began — with schedule growth overshooting targets by 29 percent at an average capability delivery delay of more than two years.

Over the last year, 42 MDAPs reported a combined total acquisition cost increase of more than $80 billion. Nine programs that saw cost estimates increase by over 25 percent made up more than half of that total. While some of that is driven by increased procurement numbers, such as with the Joint Air-to-Surface Standoff Missile for the Air Force, those changed procurement plans are not the major driver of the cost increase.

However, it’s not all bad fiscal news: The remaining 43 MDAPs saw a cost decrease of more than $16 billion. And 19 programs that increased procurement managed to drive costs down through those updated plans.

One worrisome trend the GAO highlighted is the lack of factoring in cybersecurity to early development of key performance parameters on MDAPs. The watchdog dug into a sample of 42 MDAPs as a test case, it and found that 25 of those programs had zero cybersecurity factored into the key performance parameters. Another 10 programs had one KPP related to cybersecurity, which is unlikely to be enough in the modern, wired world.

For the middle-tier programs, which are designed for rapid prototyping and fielding, the GAO warned there is “inconsistent cost reporting and wide variation in schedule metrics” across the programs, adding that this poses “oversight challenges for Office of the Secretary of Defense and military department leaders trying to assess performance.” However, the watchdog agency also said the Department of Defense is in the process of addressing those issues.

One notable program challenge identified in the report: The Navy’s presidential helicopter replacement program, known as the VH-92A, has yet to “demonstrate that it can meet the requirement to land on the White House South Lawn without causing damage.”

Parts of the helicopter are too hot, which will damage the lawn under “certain conditions.” As a result, the program is studying everything from lawn surface treatments to changes in aircraft design.

“Due to concurrency in the program, which entered production while simultaneously addressing problems identified during the operational assessment, a design change to address this or other deficiencies discovered in the future may require modifications to units already in production,” the GAO found.

Aaron Mehta is Deputy Editor and Senior Pentagon Correspondent for Defense News.

Meet the USS Boondoggle: Not Fit to Fight

Jared Keller / Task & Purpose

 (June 4, 2020) — The USS Gerald R. Ford may be on a steady march towards its first formal deployment, but the much-vaunted supercarrier is still facing major technical problems in two of its most critical systems, according to a new assessment from the Government Accountability Office.

According to the GAO report, the Navy reported that all 12 of the Ford class’s critical technologies were fully mature, up from nine technologies that were mature when the service took delivery of the new supercarrier in May 2017.

Although the Navy “assessed the advanced weapons elevators as mature, it ended the first post-delivery maintenance period in October 2019 with only four of the 11 elevators certified to operate,” the GAO said.

A fifth advanced weapons elevator was certified aboard the Ford in April of this year, USNI News reports.

“In the past year, Newport News Shipbuilding has turned over four of the ship’s 11 AWEs to the crew, with the ship’s force cycling each elevator approximately 20 times per day to make sure every system stays in good working order and to document sustained performance,” Navy officials said in April.

Unfortunately, that’s not good enough: According to the report, “none of the elevators that operate between the main deck and the lower decks are currently operational, which means the elevators are still not capable of bringing munitions to the flight deck.” 

According to the Navy, the Ford only achieved its first ordnance movement from a lower deck magazine on Tuesday.

The Navy is working to complete all elevator work by spring 2021, according to the GAO, an 18-month delay from the schedule the agency reported in 2019. 

The Navy’s $13 billion supercarrier still doesn’t have working weapons elevators and aircraft launching systems

The advanced weapons elevators aren’t the only critical systems facing major issues: According to the report, the  electromagnetic aircraft launch system (EMALS) and Advanced Arresting Gear (AAG) that make up the Ford’s next-generation aircraft launch and retrieval capabilities are still deeply unreliable.

The EMALS system in particular was cleared for launching and recovering all naval aircraft types in February of this year, FlightGlobal reported.

“Although the Navy is testing EMALS and AAG on the ship with aircraft, the reliability of those systems remains a concern,” the GAO report says. “If these systems cannot function safely by the time operational testing begins, CVN 78 will not be able to demonstrate it can rapidly deploy aircraft—a key requirement for these carriers.”

The GAO report comes on the heels of a relatively dismal assessment of the Ford from the Pentagon’s testing and evaluation arm, an assessment that revealed the supercarrier was woefully unprepared to defend itself in combat.

According to the report, published by the Pentagon’s director of operational testing and evaluation in February, recent testing of the Ford’s systems on a specially-designed Self-Defense Test Ship (SDTS) in fiscal year 2019 revealed “combat system deficiencies and limitations” associated with the new carrier’s electronic warfare system, multi-function radar (MFR), and ship-to-ship communications equipment.

In particular, the Ford’s SLQ-32(V)6 electronic surveillance system demonstrated “poor performance” so dismal that the Navy delayed additional operational testing on the system until the underlying problems could be addressed.

In addition, the Ford’s SPY-3 multi-function radar and Cooperative Engagement Capability (CEC) ship-to-ship comms “failed to maintain detections and tracks for one of the threat surrogates in multi-target raid,” even though the Pentagon acknowledged that the scenario “was more challenging to the combat system than originally planned.”

So, all in all, none of the critical systems that the Ford needs to actually operate effectively in battle appear in good working order. Luckily, the Navy is throwing more money at the problem: As the GAO report notes, the Navy in September 2019 increased the Ford’s cost cap by $197 million to $13.2 billion, “in part to correct deficiencies in the advanced weapons elevators.”

“This is the Navy’s third adjustment to the cost cap since 2017,” the GAO report stated. “CVN 78’s procurement costs [have[ increased by over $2.7 billion from its initial cost cap. Continuing technical deficiencies mean the Navy may still require more funding to complete this ship.”

Jared Keller is the deputy editor of Task & Purpose. He can be reached at

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