WASHINGTON — The House Armed Services Committee markup for the 2016 National Defense Authorization Act includes language demanding oversight of the Air Force's secretive bomber program.
The language, included at the end of the Seapower & Projection Forces markup, directs the comptroller general to conduct a review of the service's acquisition strategy for the Long Range Strike-Bomber (LRS-B) program, one of the Air Force's top recapitalization programs.
That review, led by the comptroller general's office, would be due by March 1, 2016.
The mark was supported by the office of Rep. Jackie Speier, a California Democrat who has a history of scrutinizing watchdogging large defense programs.
Full coverage of the 2016 budget
"I've led the charge for oversight of the Long Range Strike-Bomber, and I'm glad we're finally starting to give the process some teeth," Speier said in a statement to Defense News. "The Pentagon has made enormous promises about this mysterious program's affordability, and I will continue to hold it to those promises through every stage of the program."
The review itself would be fairly in-depth. The language orders a comparison of the bomber program's technological maturation versus other service acquisition programs at this point in their development. It will also include an examination of the overall acquisition strategy, technology design, development and testing status, cost and schedule implications, and expected technical performance.
As part of that study, the language directs the Air Force to "ensure timely access to the necessary program information including, but not limited to, cost and budget information, detailed schedules, contractor data, program management reports, decision briefings, risk and technology readiness assessments, and technical performance measures."
That's notable, given the secrecy surrounding the LRS-B program.
The program has been largely hidden from the public eye, with only general hints doled out about what the eventual design, which will replace the B-52 and B-1 bomber fleets, will look like.
The service desires 80-100 of them, although officials have recently begun hinting that if the program is successful they could eventually procure more. Northrop Grumman is competing against a team of Lockheed Martin and Boeing for the right to design and produce the plane. A winner is expected this summer.
Cost is a major sticking point for the program. The service has been targeting a $550 million per-unit figure, in 2010 dollars. There is widespread skepticism they can actually hit that target, however, which has expanded to the Hill.
Aaron Mehta was deputy editor and senior Pentagon correspondent for Defense News, covering policy, strategy and acquisition at the highest levels of the Defense Department and its international partners.