Sens. Tom Carper (D-Del.) and Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) issued the following statement in response to a briefing today by Sue Payton, assistant secretary for acquisition, U.S. Air Force, involving the modernization of the C-5 aircraft used to transport U.S. troops and supplies.
Both the C-5 and the C-17 aircraft have important rapid deployment capabilities that together make up the U.S. strategic airlift. Strategic airlift involves cargo aircraft moving personnel, weaponry and materiel over long distances, in real-time. During the current war in Iraq, airlift sorties have made up the majority of the nearly 30,000 total sorties flown by U.S. aircraft.
Today, the Air Force announced that the C-5 aircraft modernization program has triggered a Nunn-McCurdy breach, a mechanism established by a 1983 law that allows Congress to track the rising costs of defense programs.
A breach of Nunn-McCurdy occurs when a defense program’s procurement cost grows 15 percent over its baseline cost estimates. When this breach occurs, the Department of Defense must notify Congress and the program is heavily scrutinized.
In response to this Nunn-McCurdy breach, Sens. Carper and Coburn said:
“Our subcommittee’s hearing last week suggests that this alleged Nunn-McCurdy breach is one that should be viewed with a healthy sense of skepticism. Breaches can be caused by contractors who have underestimated the cost of labor and other importantcomponents. Breaches can also be caused by a branch of service that overestimates or overstates those costs when the service prefers to purchase new aircraft rather than modernize structurally sound aircraft that is easily capable of providing another quarter-century of service.
“We know that our military needs large aircraft capable of carrying oversized cargo anywhere in the world. We need these aircraft to be reliable and affordable. If Lockheed Martin can modernize C-5’s that meet these twin tests, we should continue to pursue them. If they can’t, we need to find another alternative.
“What’s really needed here is for Lockheed Martin and the Air Force to bear down and work this out together along the lines of what’s called for in the President’s FY2008 budget. In the meantime, we’ll continue to raise timely and relevant questions regarding the issue of cost-effective airlift in the 21st Century. The stakes are too high for our country, our military personnel and our taxpayers.”