At a recent public event the Undersecretary of Defense for Acquisition, Logistics & Technology, Ashton Carter, was asked about the projected cost increases for the KC-46A development. His response was that he, and OSD, are not really that worked up about the fact that Boeing (BA) may exceed the projected ceiling price of the contract.
In his eyes the U.S.’s liability is based on the $4.9 billion price. Boeing’s bid of $3.6 was a conscious business decision on their part. Some members of Congress, led by Senator John McCain (R-AZ), have raised concerns about the increase and the fact that the cost share structure of the contract obligates the U.S. to pay 60% of the first billion in increases.
There is also the idea that this situation would encourage contractors to submit low estimates for development contracts, or buy-in, with the goal of making up the difference in their production or by having the U.S. pay some of the overruns. McCain and the Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC) are also investigating the large cost increases in F-35 production that are requiring the U.S. to pay over $700 million as part of their cost share.
The idea that the Defense Department would accept this kind of business model is interesting. One of the criticisms of defense acquisition is this very point. In the late Sixties when Lockheed, now Lockheed Martin (LMT), did the same with the C-5 transport, although perhaps not deliberately, it is considered one of the examples of acquisition abuse and the program was almost cancelled. Now Carter is saying that as long as it involves a Firm Fixed Price Contract it is an acceptable practice.
This is just the beginning of the situation and Boeing certainly has the ability to not charge more then the ceiling price as they work the KC-46A development. Their current estimate of about $5.2 billion may be conservative and costs for the first 18 aircraft could be under $4.9 billion.