TIME Military

How the Pentagon Bombs Budget Estimates to $mithereens

Northrop Grumman An artist's conception of what the Air Force's new Long Range Strike Bomber might look like.

And why skepticism should accompany Monday's proposed 2016 defense budget

President Obama is sending his proposed $585 billion 2016 Pentagon budget to Capitol Hill on Monday. It consists of reams of documents, charts and tables that make it difficult for normal folks to understand. So let’s take a look at a single line item—the Air Force’s new bomber, for which the service is expected to seek about $1.5 billion next year—for insight into why Pentagon numbers don’t always add up.

The new bomber—designed to augment, and ultimately replace, the nation’s aging fleets of B-52, B-1 and B-2 aircraft—is so new that it doesn’t even have a name yet, beyond the generic title Long Range Strike Bomber.

But the highly-classified warplane already has a well-publicized price.

The cost, the Pentagon has been saying since 2011, is $550 million per bomber. It’s the only price tag attached to the new bomber and, and a result, it’s the one cited when the new plane is discussed.

“It’s like $550 million per copy,” Rear Admiral John Kirby, the Pentagon spokesman, said earlier this month. “It’s an estimate based upon multiple reviews of the program and not a single source.”

“Five hundred million dollars per copy sounds like a lot of money, but for the capability that we will be achieving, it actually is considered to be affordable,” Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James told Bloomberg last summer.

A team of Boeing and Lockheed Martin is competing against Northrop Grumman to build the Air Force’s next crown jewel. Northrop produced the nation’s newest bomber, the B-2, and hinted at its desire to build the Long Range Strike Bomber during Sunday’s Super Bowl, when it aired a 30-second spot in Washington, D.C., and Dayton, Ohio, home of the Air Force’s acquisition corps.

The $550 million figure has been cited so often that those not playing close attention could be forgiven for thinking that it’s the actual cost of the airplane. Kind of like the bottom line on the sticker you see on the window of a new car. But it’s not. Like any bureaucracy dedicated to expansion, the $550 million sum is the lowest figure the Air Force number can say with a straight face.

After repeatedly planting that $550 million flag in the minds of lawmakers and taxpayers, Pentagon officials have sometimes acknowledged that the $550 million represents what is known inside the military as the “APUC,” or average procurement unit cost. What’s important about that figure isn’t what it includes, but what it leaves out.

First of all, the $550 million price tag is based on buying between 80 and 100 of the bombers. Driving the price per plane down to $550 million requires economies of scale that only come over such long production runs. Early aircraft off the assembly line are very expensive, as the radar-eluding B-2 “stealth” bomber made clear. “Cost of Stealth Bombers Soars to $450 Million Each,” the Washington Post reported breathlessly on its front page nearly 30 years ago, in May 1988. Few believed at the time that a bomber could cost so much. But that was for a planned buy of 132 planes. The Air Force ended up buying only 21. The B-2’s ultimate price: $2.1 billion each.

Second, the $550 million doesn’t include the research and development needed to actually build the plane. Without the R&D, the plane would truly be stealthy—because it wouldn’t exist. Experts inside and outside the Pentagon estimate the new bomber’s development will add between $20 billion and $25 billion to the Pentagon’s projected $55 billion procurement price tag for 100 planes.

Third, the $550 million price is based on the value of a 2010 dollar. That’s 12 years before the first pair of bombers is slated to be delivered. Accounting for inflation since has already driven the cost per plane close to $600 million, and that number will keep rising in the future. Delays in the plane’s production schedule will push it even higher.

Finally, the $550 million estimate doesn’t include anything for the all-but-certain cost overruns a weapons program like this will experience. No one can say how much unanticipated costs will add to the bomber’s ultimate price, but one can declare with certainty that it won’t be zero.

Todd Harrison of the independent Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments think tank estimates the bomber program’s true cost—assuming 100 planes and no cost overruns—at $90 billion. That’s $900 million a copy, 64% higher than the Air Force’s official $550 million figure.

“I actually think it’s very important that we buy the bomber,” Harrison says. “I just think we should acknowledge what it is likely to cost.” He also thinks there will be cost overruns, and that fewer than 100 will be bought. That’ll drive the price per plane into the B-2’s billion-dollar stratosphere.

Harrison isn’t the only one with doubts, judging from what some Air Force officials have said while describing the new bomber’s advertised price. Eric Fanning, the Air Force’s #2 civilian, has called the $550 million figure “a pretty firm chalk line.” Chief Air Force weapons buyer William LaPlante describes it a “marker in the sand.”

Whatever. It’s obvious that the Air Force’s $550 million estimate isn’t carved in stone.

TIME Military

U.S. to Station 150 Armored Vehicles in Europe

LITHUANIA-UKRAINE-RUSSIA-CRISIS-DEFENCE-NATO-BALTICS
Petras Malukas—AFP/Getty Images Members of the US Army 1st Brigade, 1st Cavalry Division, transport heavy combat equipment including Bradley Fighting Vehicles at the railway station near the Rukla military base in Lithuania, Oct. 4, 2014.

The U.S. has around 30,000 troops on the continent

The United States will station around 150 tanks and armored vehicles in Europe by the end of next year for U.S. training use.

Commander of the U.S. army in Europe, Lieutenant-General Ben Hodges, says the vehicles could be placed in Poland, Romania or the Baltic states, Reuters reports.

Housing equipment in Europe ensures soldiers coming from the U.S. do not need to bring it with them. It also makes it easier for the U.S. to respond to emergencies like the Ukraine crisis if need be.

Currently the U.S. has around 30,000 troops in Europe, as well additionally large numbers of Air Force, Navy and Marine members, according to Reuters.

[Reuters]

TIME Nuclear

U.S. Looks to Improve Management of Nuclear Weapons Cache

“Our nuclear deterrent plays a critical role in securing U.S. national security”

The United States’ arsenal of nuclear weapons is badly in need of a makeover, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said Friday.

“The good news is that there’s nothing here we can’t fix,” Hagel told reporters. “But if we don’t pay attention to this, if we don’t fix this eventually, it will get to a point where there are some questions about our security.”

Hagel said a full review of the country’s nuclear arsenal revealed “evidence of systematic problems,” including issues with manpower, infrastructure, skill deficiencies, a culture of micromanagement and over-inspection.

The overhaul of nuclear arms across the entire Department of Defense will include reforms that address each of these areas. In order to make the nuclear field a more attractive career path for young soldiers, for instance, Hagel elevated the Global Strike Command to so-called a four-star billet, meaning high-ranking soldiers in the nuclear fleet can be equal in rank to their counterparts in non-nuclear fields. Hagel also announced the creation of a new medal to recognize service in the nuclear field.

“Our nuclear deterrent plays a critical role in securing U.S. national security,” Hagel said. “No other capability remains more important.”

Read next: Why ISIS Can Survive Without Baghdadi

TIME Iraq

Iraq Plans ISIS Counteroffensive With U.S. Help

Iraq Army ISIS Islamic State
Anadolu Agency/Getty Images Iraqi government forces and Shiite militias launch an operation against Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) militants to take control of Jurf al-Sakhar south of Baghdad, Iraq. on Oct. 25, 2014.

Working closely with U.S.

Iraq is training 20,000 soldiers for a spring counter-offensive against the militant group that has taken over large swaths of the country, according to a new report, and working in close consultation with the United States to do it.

The plan, described to the New York Times by at least a dozen unnamed sources, involves hundreds of American military advisers stationed in Baghdad to help the government there take on the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS).

“It is a balance between letting them develop their own plan and take ownership for it,” one U.S. military official said.

Read more at the Times

TIME Military

Airmen No Longer Required to Say ‘So Help Me God’ During Oath

Untited States Air Force Academy graduation ceremony
Craig F. Walker—The Denver Post/Getty Images United States Air Force Academy graduation ceremony at Falcon Stadium in Colorado Springs, May 29, 2013.

“We take any instance in which Airmen report concerns regarding religious freedom seriously," the Air Force Secretary said in a statement

The U.S. Air Force said Wednesday that enlisted members and officers are permitted to omit the phrase “so help me God” from their oaths if they so chose. In a statement Wednesday, the Air Force said it arrived at the decision after consulting with the Department of Defense General Counsel; last week an airman who was prohibited from re-enlisting until he uttered the phrase threatened to sue if the Air Force did not change their policy.

“We take any instance in which Airmen report concerns regarding religious freedom seriously,” Secretary of the Air Force Deborah Lee James said in a statement. “We are making the appropriate adjustments to ensure our Airmen’s rights are protected.”

The change will go into effect immediately and enlistment instructions will be adjusted within the coming weeks.

TIME Australia

The U.S. Will Increase Its Military Presence in Australia

US Marines Train In Australia's Northern Territory
The Sydney Morning Herald—Fairfax Media via Getty Images The first group of 200 U.S. Marines arrives at Darwin's Robertson Barracks for a 6-month training rotation, April 2012.

The move comes at a time when China has been testing the waters in the region

The United States will be finalizing an agreement to increase its military presence in Australia in an attempt to bolster its ties with allies in the Asia-Pacific, where China has been flexing its muscles, Reuters reported Tuesday.

The negotiations will conclude an agreement made between Australia Prime Minister Tony Abbott and U.S. President Barack Obama in June.

At the annual AUSMIN talks between U.S. and Australian defense leaders this week, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel will discuss a proposal to add more fighter jets and bombers to a military base near the northern Australian city of Darwin, Reuters said.

Australia’s defense minister David Johnston and U.S. officials will also sign a 25-year agreement, which will create a larger ballistic missile defense shield for U.S. allies in Asia-Pacific and boost U.S. troops in Australia from 1,500 to 2,500 by 2017. The additional forces will respond to humanitarian disasters and conflicts in the region.

The negotiations for an increased military presence in the region follow Beijing’s rejection of a U.S. request that China and other nations refrain from provocative acts in disputed areas of South China Sea.

TIME Military

U.S. Air Force Finds Boy’s Body in Aircraft Landing Gear

Members of the US Air Force stand alongside a C-130 transport aircraft at Kabul international airport on October 9, 2013.
Noorullah Shirzada—AFP/Getty Images Members of the US Air Force stand alongside a C-130 transport aircraft at Kabul international airport on October 9, 2013.

U.S. officials said they were investigating how an "apparent stowaway" accessed the upper recesses of a C-130's landing gear

Maintenance crews recently discovered the body of an adolescent boy lodged deep in the wheel well of a U.S. Air Force cargo aircraft shortly after it landed at Germany’s Ramstein Air Base.

“The body of an apparent stowaway was found trapped in a compartment above the aircraft’s rear landing gear,” said Rear Admiral John Kirby in a Tuesday press briefing. “American and German emergency responders were summoned; removed the body, transported it to a German facility for autopsy and further investigation.”

Kirby said investigators were still trying to determine when and how the boy accessed the inner recesses of the C-130’s landing gear. The aircraft recently returned from a long-haul mission in Africa, and Kirby said “the boy was an adolescent black male, possibly of African origin.”

 

MONEY College

22 Colleges Where You Can Earn a Degree for Free. Seriously.

Deep Springs College, California
Brian L. Frank—Redux At Deep Springs College in California, students pay their way by working on the ranch.

You'll never have to take on a student loan at these schools.

A few new proposals are calling for making college free nationally—either for two years or all four. But experts say it could be some time before we can entirely say goodbye to tuition bills on all schools across the nation.

In the meantime, there are some places where college is already free, either for all students or those who fit certain criteria. So if you want to avoid ever signing your name to a student loan, you might add these schools to your list.

Programs that make students earn their keep: Those enrolled at Alice Lloyd, Berea, and Deep Springs colleges work to pay their full tuition—at Deep Springs, on the school ranch and farm.

Programs that reward locals. A program called Tulsa Achieves offers every high school graduate from Tulsa County, OK with at least a “C” average a full ride on tuition and fees at a local community college, local tax revenue. A local oil company pays all tuition and fees at any college or university for graduates of El Dorado High School in Arkansas. And anonymous donors do the same thing for students who attend public kindergarten through high school in Kalamazoo, Mich., and go on to a Michigan public college or university.

Programs that reward service: The U.S. military, Navy, Air Force, Coast Guard, and merchant marine academies charge no tuition for students who are accepted and serve a military term or time at sea. CUNY’s Teacher Academy gives a gratis education for education students who graduate and teach at least two years in the New York City public schools.

Programs that seek talent: The Curtis Institute of Music is free for students who pass a demanding audition, and Webb Institute for a handful of the most promising engineering students. The Macaulay Honors College at the City University of New York waives tuition for applicants who can meet the tough admissions requirements—including an “A” average in high school.

Programs with a religious bent: Barclay College, a bible college, is an example of a religious school that is free.

Programs that recognize need: Very highly selective universities with big endowments have also acted in the last several years to make tuition free for students from families with certain incomes—MIT for families that earn $75,000 or less, Harvard and Yale $65,000 or less, and Columbia, Cornell, Stanford, Duke, Brown, and Texas A&M $60,000 or less.

__________

This story was produced by The Hechinger Report, a nonprofit, nonpartisan education-news outlet affiliated with Teachers College, Columbia University.

Related stories:

Colleges try to speed up pace at which students earn degrees

Testing your way to a degree

Residents are crowded out of college by out-of-state and foreign students

Just as it wants students to speed up, government won’t pay for summer courses

TIME National Security

Air Force Flunked Stolen Nuclear Weapon Test

An Air Force review called the failed drill a "critical deficiency," representing another setback for the Air Force nuclear program.

Security forces at a U.S. nuclear missile base failed to speedily recapture a stolen nuclear weapon in a simulated drill last year, according to a review obtained by the Associated Press.

The test failure came as the security team at Montana’s Malmstrom Air Force Base was responding to a hostile takeover of a Minuteman 3 nuclear missile silo. According to a review obtained by the AP through the Freedom of Information Act, the team showed an “inability to effectively respond to a recapture scenario” due to insufficient training and, lack of familiarity with “complex scenario” exercises and shortcomings in “leadership culture.”

The Air Force called the failure a “critical deficiency” at the base.

Military officials acknowledged a failed inspection of the base in August, but they did not publicly attribute it at the time to the failed simulation. Even the partially-censored review obtained by the AP does not specify what exactly went wrong.

A spokesperson for the Air Force Global Strike Command declined to comment further to the AP, but said nearly all of the recommendations in the review had already been put in place. An inspection of the base two months after the initial evaluation found no security weaknesses, according to the AP.

The Air Force nuclear missile corps has faced a series of recent embarrassments. A commander of the 450 Minuteman missiles was removed from his post last October after the Pentagon concluded that he drank too much and cavorted with “suspect” women on an official trip to Russia. And in March, the Air Force fired nine commanders at Malmstrom amid fallout from a cheating scandal.

[AP]

TIME Vietnam War

Faces of the American Dead in Vietnam: One Week’s Toll, June 1969

A look back at a landmark, and intensely controversial, 1969 LIFE magazine feature

In June 1969, LIFE magazine published a feature that remains as moving and, in some quarters, as controversial as it was when it intensified a nation’s soul-searching 45 years ago. On the cover, a young man’s face—the very model of middle-America’s “boy next door”—along with 11 stark words: “The Faces of the American Dead in Vietnam: One Week’s Toll.” Inside, across 10 funereal pages, LIFE published picture after picture and name after name of 242 young men killed in seven days halfway around the world “in connection with the conflict in Vietnam.”

To no one’s surprise, the public’s response was immediate, and visceral. Some readers expressed amazement, in light of the thousands of American deaths suffered in a war with no end in sight, that it took so long for LIFE to produce something as dramatic and pointed as “One Week’s Toll.” Others were outraged that the magazine was, as one reader saw it, “supporting the antiwar demonstrators who are traitors to this country.” Still others—perhaps the vast majority—were quietly and disconsolately devastated.

[Read readers’ responses below, and see how ‘One Week’s Dead’ looked when it ran in LIFE]

Here, LIFE.com republishes every picture and every name that originally appeared in that extraordinary 1969 feature. Below is the text, in full, that not only accompanied portraits of those killed, but also explained why LIFE chose to publish “One Week’s Dead” when it did—and in the manner that it did.

From the June 27, 1969, issue of LIFE:

The faces shown on the next pages are the faces of American men killed—in the words of the official announcement of their deaths—”in connection with the conflict in Vietnam.” The names, 242 of them, were released on May 28 through June 3 [1969], a span of no special significance except that it includes Memorial Day. The numbers of the dead are average for any seven-day period during this stage of the war.

It is not the intention of this article to speak for the dead. We cannot tell with any precision what they thought of the political currents which drew them across the world. From the letters of some, it is possible to tell they felt strongly that they should be in Vietnam, that they had great sympathy for the Vietnamese people and were appalled at their enormous suffering. Some had voluntarily extended their tours of combat duty; some were desperate to come home. Their families provided most of these photographs, and many expressed their own feelings that their sons and husbands died in a necessary cause. Yet in a time when the numbers of Americans killed in this war—36,000—though far less than the Vietnamese losses, have exceeded the dead in the Korean War, when the nation continues week after week to be numbed by a three-digit statistic which is translated to direct anguish in hundreds of homes all over the country, we must pause to look into the faces. More than we must know how many, we must know who. The faces of one week’s dead, unknown but to families and friends, are suddenly recognized by all in this gallery of young American eyes.

Here are some of the reactions from readers, published in the August 18, 1969, issue of LIFE—an issue in which the entire Letters section of the magazine was given over to responses to “One Week’s Dead”:

“Your story was the most eloquent and meaningful statement on the wastefulness and stupidity of war I have ever read.” — From a reader in California

“Certainly these tragic young men were far superior to the foreign policy they were called upon to defend.” — From a U.S. Marine Corps Captain (resigned)

“I feel you are supporting the antiwar demonstrators who are traitors to this country. You are helping them and therefore belong to this group.” — From a reader in Texas

“I cried for those Southern black soldiers. What did they die for? Tar paper shacks, malnutrition, unemployment and degradation?” — From a reader in Ohio

“While looking at the photographs I was shocked to see the smiling face of someone I used to know. He was only 19 years old. I guess I never realized that 19-year-olds have to die.” — From a reader in Georgia

“I felt I was staring into the eyes of the 11 troopers from my platoon who were killed while fighting for a cause they couldn’t understand.” — From a Marine second lieutenant in New Jersey who commanded a rifle platoon in Vietnam

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