In a report to Congress last year, the Air Force estimated the cost of the new Long Range Strike Bomber (LRSB) to be $33.1 billion for the next ten years. This year, that price ballooned to $58.2 billion.
The amount of the gap is so large, it caught the attention of Rep. Jackie Speier (D-Calif.), who immediately demanded answers from Secretary of the Air Force Deborah Lee James and Chief of Staff of the Air Force Gen. Mark Welsh. How does the Air Force explain the $25 billion error? It says the cost should have actually been $41.7 billion, but human error was the explanation for the discrepancy.
Welsh insists he was caught off guard as well. It was just a multi-billion dollar oopsie, people.
"We were surprised by the number when we saw it as well once it had been pointed out to us that it looked like the number had grown because we've been using the same number," Welsh said.
The Air Force has a history of bait-and-switch budgeting when it comes to developing new aircraft. The Air Force's F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program is famously over budget (it's the most expensive weapons program ever) and underperforming. The Air Force's most recent fighter program, the dogfighting-optimized F-22 Raptor, produced 187 units between 1996 and 2011 at the cost of $157 million each. The Raptor wasn't used in combat until 2014.
— U.S. Dept of Defense (@DeptofDefense) September 23, 2014
The LSRB is estimated to cost $500 million per plane, with a total cost of $55 billion to replace the USAF's 77 aging B-52 (first developed in 1955) and 21 B-2 (1989) bombers.