Pentagon: Price of big-ticket weapons programs grew $64 billion in 2010

The Pentagon says the total expected costs of its highest-profile weapons programs grew by $64 billion last year, an increase that largely stems from buying more equipment.

The Defense Department has sent Congress data covering a one-year period ending last December, which shows 95 programs experienced $63.9 billion, or 4 percent, in price-tag growth.

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Defense officials released the cost-growth data late Friday — just as lawmakers were leaving town for a two-week recess. The data drop came days after Congress passed a 2011 defense spending measure that is $18 billion smaller than the Obama administration’s $549 billion request.

Only a few programs, however, saw costs rise due to developmental issues and design changes — things that have plagued U.S. military programs in the past, according to the Pentagon data. That was the case for the Joint Land Attack Cruise Missile Defense Elevated Netted Sensor System (JLENS) programs, which had “engineering challenges,” according to the Pentagon.

The vast majority of programs that experienced either “critical” or “significant” cost swelling did so because the Pentagon changed the number of models it purchased.

That was the case for the Army’s Blackhawk helicopter ($3.6 billion in growth), the Navy’s DDG-51 destroyer initiative ($8 billion), the Navy and Marines’ F/A-18E/F fighter aircraft ($2.8 billion), two Air Force satellite programs ($3.4 billion) and the multi-service Joint Tactical Radio System ($571 million) effort.

And for the Mine Resistant Ambush Protected (MRAP) vehicle program, costs rose by $4.6 billion after the Pentagon decided to buy 3,670 additional vehicles, according to the data.

Several programs — like the Air Force’s C-27J cargo aircraft (18.6 percent growth) and a multi-agency satellite (23.1 percent) — saw significant cost spikes because the Pentagon decided to buy fewer models. Because of the complexities with producing such high-tech machines, per-unit costs get smaller as production lines and tactics evolve.

The Air Force’s Global Hawk unmanned aircraft program saw per-model costs rise 14 percent “due primarily to changing the mix of aircraft to a larger percentage of the more expensive Block 30 aircraft,” and changes that were made last year to the purchasing schedule, states a DOD fact sheet.