Cost of US Cyber Command Program Quintuples

A new cyber weapon system being created by the United States Air Force will cost over five times more than originally estimated, according to a government watchdog.

The United Platform program was initiated in August 2018 as part of the Department of Defense's Joint Cyber Warfighting Architecture. Its mission is to develop a federated software platform to consolidate service-specific capabilities and data processing, sharing, and storage.

According to a report published June 3 by the Government Accountability Office (GAO), initial estimates for how much the completed program will cost fell considerably short of the mark. The GAO's Defense Acquisitions Annual Assessment found that the original pricing for the project had not been independently assessed.

"The program’s cost estimate was more than five times its initial estimate at program initiation, which had not been independently assessed," states the GAO report.

"UP did not have several key elements of its business case approved at the time of program initiation, such as approved requirements, a cost estimate informed by independent analysis, or a formal schedule risk assessment."

In 2018, the Air Force asked for $29.8m for the Unified Platform program in its research and development budget for fiscal 2019. A further $10m was requested for fiscal year 2020, and an additional $6m in fiscal year 2021.

To date, the United Platform program has received $152.19m in funding. The GAO report states that a further $436.79 million is required to complete the program.

"The new cost estimate includes costs beyond the completion of this middle-tier acquisition. Program officials attribute this cost increase to new US Cyber Command requirements," reported the GAO.

In October 2018, the program awarded a contract to Northrop Grumman to act as the system coordinator. Then in March 2019, the program awarded contracts to five different companies for software development.

Under the program, developers are tasked with coming up with new distinguishing software characteristics described as "features." Every three months, all the newly completed features are demonstrated to US Cyber Command, who decide which ones to accept for deployment. 

Program officials told the GAO that in the first four three-month increments of the program, 32 features had been delivered and accepted.

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