Why a Cost-Plus Bomber

Members of the Senate Armed Services Committee chided Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James last week for pursuing a cost-plus contract for the new B-21 bomber instead of a fixed-price arrangement, but senior uniformed acquisition official Lt. Gen. Arnold Bunch said the contracting vehicle is appropriate. The bomber is “fundamentally different” from a contract like the fixed-price KC-46A tanker, he said. The tanker offers both commercial and foreign military sales opportunities for Boeing, and is a variant of an in-production aircraft, whereas the bomber is an all-new airframe that will likely never be sold abroad, said Bunch. James said Northrop Grumman is “incentivized” to get through development “quickly” and will lose fees if it misses schedule milestones. The program is structured with incentive fees, and if Northrop misses milestones, fees could fall “to zero,” added Bunch. Moreover, he said, while cost is a major performance goal, “schedule is the heavier-weighted of the two,” and future milestones won’t move if an earlier one is missed. Contracting methods are not “one size fits all” and the contract vehicle for the B-21 is the right one, said Bunch.