Sowing the Seeds of Affordability

The Air Force is applying the same rigorous up-front systems engineering work to its future family of long range strike systems as the Navy has already used to significantly drive down the projected costs of its next-generation ballistic missile submarine, the SSBN-X, Pentagon weapons czar Ash Carter said Wednesday at AFA’s Air & Space Conference. Taking this approach puts engineers who understand how system cost will vary as the design is tweaked into the conceptualization process at an earlier stage, he said during his conference address. This allows for shedding “inessential capability” in exchange for cost savings, he continued. “We embark on something that we are actually going to be able to have; otherwise we are planting the seeds of disappointment, later,” he explained. The Navy’s work over the past several months has enabled it to reduce the projected costs of SSBN-X by 16 percent, with “a very good chance of getting as high as 27 percent,” said Carter. With the SSBN-X program’s anticipated lifetime costs exceeding $100 billion, such savings are “non-trivial,” he noted.