GAO Says C-17 Is Riddled With Computer Problems


The McDonnell Douglas C-17 cargo jet is plagued with serious computer hardware and software problems, resulting in part from shortcuts taken by the company and by a failure by the Air Force to effectively manage the task, according to a General Accounting Office report obtained Thursday.

The GAO report is the first public finding that the C-17 has serious computerization problems, though Air Force documents have hinted before that the computer system lacks adequate capacity and that its development has fallen behind schedule.

"In fact, the C-17 is a good example of how not to manage software development when procuring a major weapon," according to the GAO report, which was requested by Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.), chairman of the House Government Operations Committee.

Conyers, a frequent critic of many McDonnell programs, will hold a hearing next week to examine the firm's programs and findings by a Pentagon investigation that the Air Force had a secret bailout plan to help the firm in 1990 and 1991.

Separately, the Air Force has again raised its estimate of the C-17 overrun by another $300 million, defense officials said Thursday. The Air Force is now estimating that McDonnell will spend $7.75 billion to complete development and production of the first six aircraft, about $1.15 billion more than its contract ceiling.

The increase comes just several weeks after McDonnell raised its own cost estimate to $7.39 billion and asserted that further increases in the Long Beach-based program were not anticipated.

The GAO report asserts that software--in the context of the cost overruns of the Long Beach-based C-17 program--has been "a major problem during the first six years of the program." It found that the Air Force wrongly assumed that the software portion of the program would be low risk and "did little to manage its development or oversee the contractor's performance."

The C-17 is the most software-intensive transport aircraft ever developed. The report said the aircraft has 19 different on-board computers, using 80 microprocessors and functioning in six different computer languages.

The GAO found that the Air Force "made a number of mistakes," including underestimating the size and complexity of the task, waiving many Pentagon standards for software development and awarding a contract to McDonnell that gave the firm control over software.

McDonnell officials declined to comment on the GAO report. But the report notes that both the Air Force and McDonnell concurred with its findings.

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