The House Armed Services Committee (HASC) plans to address hundreds of millions of dollars in apparent cost increases for the B-52 Commercial Engine Replacement Program (CERP), Democratic and Republican leaders of the HASC seapower and projection forces panel said on June 8.

“I think there has been broad consensus on the need to replace the existing engine,” Rep. Joe Courtney (D-Conn.), the chairman of the panel, said at the opening of a hearing on U.S. Air Force power projection programs in the fiscal 2022 budget request. “However, I’m particularly concerned that a lack of adequate guardrails has resulted in requested cost increases in CERP in the hundreds of millions of dollars in just one year. If the re-engining were to be a regular program at this point, it would clearly been approaching a Nunn-McCurdy breach, which should be a serious concern to every member of this subcommittee.”

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. Rep. Robert Wittman (R-Va.), the panel’s ranking member, said that CERP has had a more than 50 percent development cost increase in the last year. “We can and must do better,” he said, adding that he believes that Air Force programs should adopt lessons learned from the service’s efforts to develop and field the Northrop Grumman [NOC] B-21 Raider stealth bomber.

The Air Force fiscal 2022 budget asks for $715 million in CERP research and development and $74.9 million for CERP procurement, Courtney said. The fiscal 2021 budget requested $299 million for CERP, and last year’s five-year defense plan (FYDP) laid in annual spending that did not exceed $327 million through fiscal 2025.

Acting Air Force Acquisition Chief Darlene Costello said that B-52 CERP funding across the FYDP is “for a multitude of programs.”

“The first part is a rapid, virtual prototype where we’re going to virtualize/digitize the solution and then downselect to one engine and then move to another mid-tier acquisition program with a physical prototype,” she said. “The reason we’re doing that is to get a better estimate on cost and reduce risk before going into a traditional program. It is our plan to end up in a traditional program before we start all the procurement. September is the next major decision point of whether we continue down this path or make a change.”

In September, the Air Force is “to look at the rapid, virtual prototype status, its cost, its risk, basically a technology risk determine if we’re going to go to the next step and do the physical prototype,” she said. “Then there would be another decision point before we would go forward with full [CERP] production.”

Boeing [BA] is the sole-source integrator for CERP and other B-52 initiatives, including internal weapons bay upgrades, communications network/electronics upgrades, and a new radar, to sustain the 76 B-52s until 2040.

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 jet.

Air Force plans have called for the winner to deliver 16-64 engines initially for integration onto prototype aircraft.

Costello said that CERP was one of the early Section 804, mid-tier acquisition programs that possibly did not have the rigor of later mid-tier programs. “I’ve been working very hard with our program team to properly define it so for this mid-tier acquisition effort we’ll have the right dollars and schedule, and we’ll measure against that,” she said. “We may decide early to just go to a traditional program, depending on the data.”

Costello also told HASC that some of the $715 million in research and development funds ascribed by Courtney to CERP may be for other B-52 modernization efforts. “We are watching carefully the guardrails we set up and are looking forward to shaping the program properly,” she said.

Courtney said HASC staffers “will definitely be scrubbing” CERP cost data in the coming days.

The Air Force has said it will award a CERP contract by December this year.