DOD official warns high costs will doom new hardware projects

The Pentagon's top weapons buyer on Wednesday promised greater senior-level scrutiny of new weapons programs, warning that those deemed unaffordable will be halted early.

Saying it is clear the post-9/11 national security spending spree has ended, Pentagon acquisition chief Ashton Carter told an audience in Washington that defense officials “are not going to start any [program] we can't finish ... that we can’t afford.”

During the George W. Bush administration, the defense sector was flush with federal cash, giving Pentagon and industry officials the luxury of throwing money at troubled programs. Now such projects will likely be axed before the first inch of steel is bent.

Pentagon acquisition officials plan to closely examine military services' plans for several new projects: the Army’s Ground Combat Vehicle (GCV) effort, the Air Force’s new long-range bomber aircraft program, and the Marine Corps-led Presidential Helicopter initiative.

Carter said he will weigh in on plans for those systems just as he did when Navy officials presented plans and cost estimates for a new nuclear-powered submarine showing each model would cost $7 billion. 

The acquisition chief instructed Navy officials to go back to work and find ways to make a cheaper design while not giving up any attributes needed in battle. Since that instruction, the Navy has trimmed the expected cost of each new nuclear sub to $4.9 billion.

Carter suggested more DOD hardware contract competitions will be structured like the Air Force's most recent KC-X tanker race. 

The tanker competition, won by Boeing after a decade-long fight with European rival EADS, put a high premium on meeting crucial requirements at a low price and operating on a fixed-price contract that pushes industry to deliver on its promises.

“We are confident” about getting a “tanker that will be affordable,” Carter said.