Protest-Proofing and the Business Case

The Pentagon has done a good job in recent years explaining to contractors exactly how much it’s willing to pay for capability, and exactly how much more it’s willing to pay for better capability, Defense acquisition chief Frank Kendall asserted Tuesday. Speaking at CSIS in Washington, D.C. Kendall said the proof of his assertion lies in the fact that “so few protests” are being upheld of late, suggesting this was the case with the B-21 bomber. Boeing bid aggressively on the KC-46 tanker and has “written off $1.5 billion” on the program, but understood what would happen up front and only went ahead because it could “make the business case” for the investment, Kendall said, calling the KC-46 “my poster child” for a fixed-price program. It could be fixed-price because the requirements were well understood and wouldn’t change, Boeing knew how to do the work and had the financial resources to ride out setbacks, and in the end will probably make back its money through production and volume benefits for its commercial business, he said. The bomber, meanwhile, offers no such commercial payback, so it’s right for the government to share development risk, he explained.