Boeing Delay on Warthog Contract Draws Senate Cut

By Tony Capaccio

The A-10 Warthog is known for its tank-busting capabilities and built for steep-dive attacks to fire 30mm depleted uranium shells at a 3,000-per-minute rate from its GAU-8/A nose-mounted Gatling Gun. Source: U.S. Air Force

 Boeing Co. (BA) is 10 months behind schedule on a $2 billion contract to build new wings that would extend the life of the U.S. Air Force’s ground attack jet, the A-10 Warthog, according to the service.

The Senate Appropriations Committee cited problems and unspent prior funding when it entirely cut the Air Force’s $145 million fiscal 2012 request for the program.

The A-10 program has experienced “significant delays and has not delivered a new wing” since the program began procurement in fiscal 2010, the committee wrote in a Sept. 16 report accompanying its fiscal 2012 budget.

Boeing spokesman Forrest Gossett said the company has put in place a “recovery plan” and expects to deliver the first of four new wings before Oct. 31.The fixed-price contract, which covers manufacturing of 242 wing sets and engineering services through 2018, would require Boeing to absorb any cost increases due to delays.

It’s too early to tell whether the committee’s cut will be sustained through the entire budget process “and what ultimately it will mean for Boeing,” Gossett said.

The new wings are needed to extend the life of the A-10 aircraft, some of which have been in use since 1975 after previous modifications. The new wings will keep the A-10s flying until about 2030 at a lower cost than buying new aircraft, according to the Air Force.

The Senate committee cut the Air Force’s entire $145 million request because the delays meant little of the $351 million in A-10 wing money appropriated since fiscal 2010 has been spent, according to service figures.

‘Below Established Standards’

The committee expressed its concerns “with the poor expenditure performance that is significantly below established standards.”

The Air Force plans to request $144 million in fiscal 2013 and $134 million million in 2014.

A pre-production wing set was delivered in March, five months late and led to a 10-month overall delivery delay, Air Force spokeswoman Jennifer Cassidy said in an e-mail statement.

Boeing deficiencies included “challenges properly mating outer and center wing panels, incorrect application of internal fuel tank sealant” and a problem “prohibiting installation” of the main landing gear, she said.

The program is on schedule with a new program baseline and “is expected to meet projected delivery dates,” she said. “Boeing has dedicated considerable resources and made significant manufacturing changes and improvements,” she said.

‘Recovery Plan’

“We experienced issues during the initial manufacturing of the program,” Gossett said in an e-mail. The first wing was delivered “with no major deficiencies but there were items to work through as would be expected with any development program.”

“Boeing has worked with the Air Force to create a recovery plan and the program is on target to deliver the first of four new wings” before Oct. 31, Gossett said.

The A-10 Warthog introduced in 1975 is known for its tank- busting capabilities and built for steep dive attacks to fire 30mm depleted uranium shells at a 3,000-per-minute rate from its GAU-8/A nose-mounted Gatling Gun.

The Warthog gained fame as a tank buster in the 1991 Persian Gulf War. It has provided consistent ground-attack support since then for U.S. troops in Afghanistan, including a four-hour Oct. 5, 2009, night fight in Herat province where A-10s made strafing runs on Taliban attackers within 30 feet of U.S. troops, according to an Air Force narrative.

The Air Force wants Boeing to replace the fleet’s thin wings with thicker ones that will extend aircraft’s service life to 16,000 hours.

To contact the reporter on this story: Tony Capaccio in Washington atacapaccio@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Mark Silva at msilva34@bloomberg.net

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