US Air Force LRS-B Bomber Thread


Oct 28, 2015
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Boeing Protests Northrop's Long Range Strike Bomber Contract
Boeing, which along with partner Lockheed Martin submitted the losing bid in the competition to build the US Air Force's new Long Range Strike Bomber, filed a protest Friday with the Government Accountability Office over the DoD awarding the contract to Northrop Grumman on Oct. 27.

The GAO now has 100 days to review the protest and issue a ruling.

Boeing and Lockheed Martin concluded the selection process for the Long Range Strike Bomber was fundamentally flawed, the companies said in a joint statement. Specifically, they take issue with the cost evaluation performed by the government for not properly rewarding the team's proposals to break the upward-spiraling historical cost curves of defense acquisitions, and for not properly evaluating the relative or comparative risk of Northrop Grumman's ability to perform, as required by the solicitation.

Northrop Grumman, maker of the stealth B-2 bomber, won the award in part because of a projected cost per plane of $511 million in 2010 dollars, well below the Pentagon’s cost cap of $550 million in 2010 dollars.

Boeing has little to lose and much to gain from a protest. The LRS-B contract award is expected to top $100 billion over the life of the contract and will mean decades of revenue for the winning contractor. Without LRS-B, Boeing’s military aircraft facility in St. Louis, Missouri, could face extinction.

But Boeing faces long odds of a successful protest. As a recent annual report on the defense acquisition system noted, only around 2 percent of defense protests were actually upheld in 2013, the last year data was available. This rate is lower than the overall federal rate for that year, which was just under 4 percent.

Additionally, the Air Force, clearly eager to avoid a repeat of the decade-long tanker saga when a Boeing protest eventually reversed the original award to Airbus, has taken great pains to insulate the LRS-B award.

Service leadership tasked not one but two independent cost estimators to evaluate the program, officials revealed last week. Experts also point to a recent Pentagon Inspector General audit of the LRS-B acquisition process as evidence the contract award is air tight.

In making the announcement, Secretary Deborah Lee James stressed that the selection process was “deliberate and disciplined.”

“Award of this contract followed a deliberate and disciplined process, our team of professionals carefully considered the offerers’ proposals in accordance with the source selection criteria,” James told reporters during the award announcement. “The entire process was carried out with a high level of transparency with our industry partners and was scrutinized via DOD peer reviews.”

But despite the Air Force’s best efforts, a protest could delay the program and spark an ugly public relations battle, particularly given Boeing’s clout on Capitol Hill.

Boeing and Lockheed will likely wage intense lobbying campaigns. Boeing is expected to tap the Missouri delegation, including influential Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill and Republican Sen. Roy Blunt, while Lockheed will look to the Texas delegation, particularly Fort Worth’s Republican Rep. Kay Granger and House Armed Services Committee Chairman Rep. William "Mac" Thornberry, also a Republican.

Before the announcement last week and after a hearing on streamlining defense acquisitions, Thornberry acknowledged concerns over a possible LSR-B protest and the litigious nature of acquisitions in general.

"It's part of the way acquisition culture has developed that every bid award has protests, and you're expected to protest – basically with no penalty," he told reporters. "So, a number of members have had ideas about improving that situation, and it's something that we will continue to discuss."
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Boeing Protests Northrop's Long Range Strike Bomber Contract
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... related:
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To
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, the Boeing-Lockheed team has filed a
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against the award to
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of
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.

Industry sources had been talking of strategies to prosecute or defend against a protest for at least six months, though, of course, no one offered much in the way of details.

Many protests are pro forma long shots, since there’s little incentive not to protest a program you’ve already lost. The average success rate is two percent, analyst Byron Callan wrote, giving the Boeing-Lockheed protest much better but still long odds of 15 percent. But, well-connected consultant
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told us, this protest has a real chance of winning and overturning the award. That would be a massive embarrassment for the Air Force and the Pentagon, raising fundamental questions about their ability to make sound purchasing decisions.

The Air Force says in a statement by Maj. Robert Leese that it is “confident that the source selection team followed a deliberate, disciplined and impartial process to determine the best value for the warfighter and taxpayer.” Reese says the service “will fully support the GAO’s independent process.”

As a reminder to those who have not suffered through major protests in the past, all work on a program is suspended pending the protest review. The protest process
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before a decision is issued. The Air Force has 30 days to file its defense of the award with GAO. The Boeing-Lockheed team has 40 days to prepare their report and submit it to GAO. Do not be surprised if members of Congress weigh in on the protest before a decision is announced.
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at the award announcement how disruptive a protest would be, but they declined to answer.

Now, what are the arguments for and against the protest?

“Boeing’s bottom line here is, there’s no way Northrop Grumman can possibly execute this program to the cost and schedule it’s signed up for,” said Loren Thompson, a member of the Breaking Defense board of contributors. But Boeing can? Given Boeing’s experience in mass production and investments in advanced manufacturing, Thompson said, “they’re more likely to.”

However, we all know
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, which only involves a rebuilt civilian aircraft, not an advanced stealthy aircraft with what Air Force acquisition chief Bill LaPlante described as “eye-watering” advanced technologies.

An
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— a consultant who used to work for Northrop and retains close business ties to the company — offers what may be a preview of Northrop’s defense. Haffa notes that Northrop Grumman “has advanced the state of the art in all- aspect stealth aircraft from modernizing the B-2, developing the stealthy
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(a candidate to help solve the U.S. Navy’s long-range strike dilemma),and working other programs.”

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, a respected aerospace analyst at the Teal Group, was less optimistic than Thompson about the chances of the Boeing-Lockheed leviathan team. “The protesters face an uphill battle. The Air Force went out of its way to protest proof this contract and used multiple layers of oversight,” he says in an email. “On the other hand, the very fact that the companies are protesting despite the cost indicates that they feel they’ve got some kind of chance here. It’s unlikely that they’ll have found something as significant as a tanker protest, but it is conceivable.”

Several hours after word of the protest broke, Northrop’s Communications VP Randy Belote issued a statement:

“Northrop Grumman Corporation is disappointed that its former LRS-B competitors have decided to disrupt a program that is so vital to national security.

“The U.S. Air Force conducted an exceptionally thorough and disciplined process with multiple layers of review. Their process took into full account the parties’ respective offerings and their relative capabilities to execute their offerings on schedule and on budget.

“Northrop Grumman offered an approach that is inherently more affordable and based on demonstrated performance and capabilities. Our record stands in contrast to that of other manufacturers’ large aircraft programs of the last decade.”

The battle lines now look pretty clear. Northrop touts its skill at all-aspect stealth, low-rate production and sensors. The leviathan team argues that the government should value its high-rate production skills and cost controls more highly. Let’s dive deeper into the production and cost arguments.

Between them, Boeing and Lockheed delivered more than 300 military aircraft last year, Thompson noted. Northrop Grumman delivered nine, all either drones or turboprops rather than jets. True, Northrop built the nation’s only stealth bomber, the B-2, but since those glorious and expensive days, it’s evolved into a maker of drones and of advanced sensors and other components for other companies’ planes. “Northrop is basically out of the manned aircraft business,” Thompson said. “Acting as if these two offerors are equal… is kind of crazy.”

Past performance is also a problem for Northrop, Thompson said, although given the very different kind of business it does, it’s not easy to make an apples to apples comparison. “Lockheed and Boeing programs have tended to come in about 50 percent over the originally bid price over the last 20 years,” he said. “The analogous number for Northrop Grumman is more than twice that.” Northrop has particularly struggled with big satellite programs such as
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, which incurred huge cost overruns.

Note that Thompson has at least half of a dog in this fight. While all three companies contributed to this thinktank in the past, only Boeing and Lockheed still do. He’s also a consultant to Lockheed. Partly because he’s such an insider Thompson is extremely well-informed. “I knew this was coming two days ago,” he told me, and he’s written pieces for Forbes that previewed the protest,
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a week ago,
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just before the protest announcement (which has since been updated).

“This
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where Northrop bid aggressively and Boeing argued the government was not thinking rigorously [about cost and risk],” said Thompson. “It failed to adequately assess risk of the competing proposal… how unlikely a successful execution by Northrop would be.”

While the Air Force was overly optimistic about Northrop’s capability to produce the plane, Thompson said, it was also overly pessimistic about the Boeing-Lockheed team’s ability to control costs. To quote the companies’ press release this morning, “the cost evaluation performed by the government did not properly reward the contractors’ proposals to break the upward-spiraling historical cost curves of defense acquisitions.”

In English, that means the companies based their bid on new techniques to keep costs down, but the Pentagon scored the bids based on historical cost data — which of course is worse. In fact, the Air Force ended up doubling both competitors’ estimates for the development phase. Given the legacy of overruns on major weapons programs, it’s hard to argue with a conservative cost estimate, but Boeing and Lockheed are going to try.

“If the award is overturned by GAO it means a delay up front in executing the bomber program,” Thompson said. The reason Boeing is going forward with the protest is because it’s convinced that the delays would be far worse when Northrop ran into execution problems.”

Here’s the
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from Boeing and Lockheed:

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Skywatcher

Senior Member
The only way LM/Boeing has an actual chance is if their LRSB had some sort of supersonic flight capability, and the JH-XX/H-18 suddenly flies in the next couple of years.

And that's still a pretty big if.
 

Brumby

Major
The only way LM/Boeing has an actual chance is if their LRSB had some sort of supersonic flight capability, and the JH-XX/H-18 suddenly flies in the next couple of years.

And that's still a pretty big if.
Can you please keep your JHXX/H-18 opinion where it belongs. This is a thread on the LRS-B.
 

Skywatcher

Senior Member
Can you please keep your JHXX/H-18 opinion where it belongs. This is a thread on the LRS-B.
Oh, knock it off with the faux-rage.

I'm using it to describe how low the chances of a successful Boeing/LM protest are.

If the best case for your bid to succeed is that someone else flies a plane that shares the same feature as yours, and hope that Congressional "me too! why can't we have a new supersonic bomber" outrage carries the day, the only good from protesting is the tax write off from your legal fees.
 

Brumby

Major
Oh, knock it off with the faux-rage.

I'm using it to describe how low the chances of a successful Boeing/LM protest are.

If the best case for your bid to succeed is that someone else flies a plane that shares the same feature as yours, and hope that Congressional "me too! why can't we have a new supersonic bomber" outrage carries the day, the only good from protesting is the tax write off from your legal fees.
You should at least attempt to understand the basis of the protest which is challenging the assumptions used to determine cost outcome and risk in product delivery. As TE pointed out it has nothing to do with speed.
 

Skywatcher

Senior Member
You should at least attempt to understand the basis of the protest which is challenging the assumptions used to determine cost outcome and risk in product delivery. As TE pointed out it has nothing to do with speed.
Which is the point. Given that the USAF used two independent cost estimates and a very tight in house acquisition process, Boeing/LM's chances on those grounds are pretty much kaput.

Thus, they might as well hope for the JH-XX to fly, or the moon to be made out of blue cheese.
 

Skywatcher

Senior Member
If it's any consolation to Lockheed Martin, they're probably well positioned to win the "2037 bomber" (that's the apparent name for the rumored hypersonic strike aircraft), if and when the SR-72 is picked up.
 

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