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Some Defense program costs up as much as 323 percent, report finds

Key Defense Department electronics, satellite and communications programs have experienced significant schedule delays and cost overruns as high 323 percent, the Government Accountability Office detailed in its annual report to Congress on 72 major weapon systems programs released on Monday.

Comment on this article in The Forum.The cost to modernize the avionics system for the C-130 aircraft -- the backbone of the Defense tactical airlift fleet -- managed by Boeing Co. zoomed 323 percent from the original contract price of $484.6 million to just over $2 billion in constant dollars, according to the report. The cost of another Boeing-managed project, the Joint tactical system ground mobile radio has jumped 310 percent from an original estimate of $235.5 million to $966.3 million in constant dollars, GAO reported.

The National Polar-Orbiting Environmental Satellite System program has experienced a 74 percent increase from $2.9 billion to $5.1 billion, GAO said. NPOESS is a joint project of Defense and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. In January, NOAA Administrator Conrad Lautenbacher blasted program contractors Northrop Grumman Corp. and Raytheon Co. for delays in developing a key weather observation instrument.

The final cost of Lockheed Martin Corp.'s Advanced Extremely High-Frequency Satellite program, designed to provide secure, jam-resistant communications to strategic and tactical forces, increased 46 percent from an estimated $2.9 billion to $4.1 billion, GAO said.

The spiraling growth of software code needed to operate major systems contributed to cost overruns and schedule delays, according to GAO, with roughly half the programs that provided software data experiencing at least a 25 percent growth.

The amount of software code required for the Army's Future Combat Systems, an ambitious project to link manned and unmanned ground and air vehicles, sensor systems and military commanders in a complex network has more than tripled, GAO said to Congress, echoing a report it released in March that said the amount of code required for FCS has jumped to 95.1 million lines. Even systems that were not expected to depend heavily on software, such as the Marine Corps' Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle under development by General Dynamics, required more code and experienced software failures affecting reliability.

Defense has spent $2 billion on research and development for the Transformational Satellite Communications system managed by Lockheed Martin, but will not have final cost, design and software development metrics until the system enters the development phase with the first satellite launch, which has slipped from 2014 to 2015.

Another satellite program, the Boeing-Lockheed Martin project to develop next-generation Block IIF Global Positioning System satellites has experienced delays due to software development, late hardware deliveries and problems with the transponders that transmit GPS location signals, GAO reported.

The Army had to take "extraordinary steps" to acquire and field an interim commercially based tactical terrestrial wideband communications system know as the Joint Network Node when its "optimistic acquisition approach" for the Warfighter Information Network-Tactical did not pan out, the agency added.

The Army plans to spend $3.9 billion on the General Dynamics Joint Network Node contracts, now renamed WIN-T Increment 1, and another $3.5 billion on WIN-T Increment 2. WIN-T Increment 2, with General Dynamics as the prime contractor, will provide broadband communications for tactical units on the move, while Increment 1 systems require units to stop to set up their broadband equipment.

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