The Biden administration is opposing a requirement in the House’s version of a fiscal 2022 defense authorization bill that would require the Pentagon to submit a report on costs for the B-52 Commercial Engine Replacement Program (CERP) before expending fiscal 2022 funds for the program, as the U.S. Air Force prepares to award a CERP contract before the end of the year, if not sooner.
The language in Section 132 of the conference bill would require Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin to use fiscal 2018 as the original cost baseline estimate for the program and would prohibit any CERP prototype transactions “except to the extent determined necessary by the milestone decision authority, on a non-delegable basis, to ensure that the program can be restructured as intended by the [Defense] Secretary without unnecessarily wasting resources.”
“The administration strongly opposes Section 132, which would limit the availability of funds for the B-52 CERP and establish a premature and inadequate cost estimate for the program,” according to a Sept. 22 Statement of Administration Policy on the bill. “This would delay the CERP and postpone delivery of new commercial engines for the B-52 by up to two years. Such a delay from 2029 to 2031 would exceed the projected 2030 end of life for the current B-52 TF-33 engines and add risk to B-52 availability.”
The conference bill would fund CERP at $547.8 million–a $147 million reduction of the U.S. Air Force’s $715.8 million request. The conferees proposes a CERP contract delay, as the latter would be “early to need.”
On Sept. 21 at the Air Force Association Air, Space & Cyber conference, acting Air Force acquisition chief Darlene Costello said that a CERP contract award could come in the next month.
“The source selection team is completing their work, and I would expect that we will be hearing something from them, meaning they’ll be ready to start to roll it out, probably within the month,” she said. “It could be faster. They have to do their due diligence, and I’m not going to get in their way.”
In June, Rep. Joe Courtney (D-Conn.), the chairman of the House Armed Services Committee’s seapower and projection forces panel, said that while lawmakers agree on the need to replace the B-52’s current engine, “a lack of adequate guardrails has resulted in requested cost increases in CERP in the hundreds of millions of dollars in just one year” (Defense Daily, June 8).
“If the re-engining were to be a regular program at this point, it would clearly be approaching a Nunn-McCurdy breach, which should be a serious concern to every member of this subcommittee,” Courtney said.
A Nunn-McCurdy breach entails a unit cost increase of 15 percent or more. Under the amendment by former Sen. Sam Nunn (D-Ga.) and former Rep. Dave McCurdy (D-Okla.) to the Defense Authorization Act of 1982, a military service secretary must notify Congress any time a defense project exceeds its acquisition unit cost budget by 15 percent. Should the project exceed its unit cost budget by 25 percent, the Nunn-McCurdy amendment allows Congress to kill the project unless convinced by the Secretary of Defense that the project is critical to national security, and there’s no alternative that will provide equal capability at less cost.
CERP has been a middle tier acquisition authority program that allows diversion from normal acquisition practices to accelerate prototyping and fielding efforts.
“We do need to be careful [on moving B-52 CERP to a a traditional acquisition program] because we lose the goodness you get out of a mid-tier acquisition where you are reducing risk,” Costello said on Sept. 21. “That’s the whole purpose of going down that path, of prototype, something that has low risk…If we start baselining it [B-52 CERP] like we do a major capability acquisition program, all that goodness of what you were trying to get started before you baselined it so that you have a better cost estimate to baseline from, we’ve missed that opportunity.”
For CERP, the Air Force wants a new, commercial B-52 engine up to 30 percent more fuel efficient than the current Pratt & Whitney [RTX] TF33-PW-103s on the aircraft (Defense Daily, Aug. 31, 2020). The Air Force propulsion directorate has estimated that the TF33-PW-103 will be unsustainable by 2030.
CERP has been the top Air Force modernization priority for the B-52H.
Air Force plans have called for the winning engine developer to build 608 new commercial engines, plus provide additional spare engines and other support equipment and data over a 17-year performance period. That was for one six-year basic period, one five-year option period and six one-year options, previously slated for fiscal year 2021 through FY 2035.
For the CERP award, Pratt & Whitney is pitching its PW815 engine, which powers the Gulfstream [GD] G600 business jet; while Rolls-Royce is offering its F130 engine, based on the commercial BR725 carried on Gulfstream G650 business jets; and GE Aviation [GE] is offering two engines–the CF34-10, aboard Bombardier CRJ series airliners, and the Passport 20, carried on Bombardier’s Global 7500 business jets.
In addition to the language on B-52 CERP, the Biden’s Statement of Administration Policy on Sept. 22 also “strongly opposes” Section 141 in the defense authorization conference bill–a section that provides for the Air Force to reduce F-35A sustainment costs per aircraft from $7.8 million to $4.1 million.
Section 141 “places artificial constraints on F-35 aircraft inventory using outdated and unrealistic fiscally-constrained F-35A affordability targets,” per the Statement on Administration Poloicy. “Based on current F-35 sustainment cost estimates, DoD does not see a realistic path to reach the $4.1 million (Constant Year 2012 dollars) cost per tail per year affordability target for the F-35A.”