20-Year Legal Battle Over Canceled A-12 Ends

 - January 31, 2014, 8:21 AM
The A-12 Avenger II was an overly ambitious attempt to provide the U.S. Navy with a very stealthy carrier-based warplane.

A legal dispute over the U.S. Navy’s termination of the A-12 Avenger II carrier-based attack aircraft in 1991 for default has finally been settled after five trials and two appeals over two decades. Citing cost and schedule overruns, then-Defense Secretary Dick Cheney cancelled the pioneering stealth warplane before it had flown. General Dynamics (GD) and McDonnell Douglas (MD) were developing the airplane. The settlement was reached between the U,S. government, Boeing (which subsequently acquired MD) and GD (which subsequently sold its warplane business to Lockheed Martin but retained liability for the A-12).

Boeing and GD will each provide the government with $200 million in goods and services. Boeing will deliver three EA-18G Growlers and a credit for converting the existing multi-year contract to a firm-fixed price contract. GD will provide a credit against a contract to build the DDG-1002 guided missile destroyer. The U.S. government was seeking the return of $1.33 billion it had already paid to the two A-12 contractors. They sought to retain the payments, and in addition counter-sued for an additional $1 billion-plus they claimed to have spent. The case reached the U.S. Supreme Court in 2011, which threw out a ruling that could have forced the two companies to repay $3 billion in contract fees and interest.

The A-12 was a twin-engine flying triangle that was supposed to advance low radar-cross-section technology well beyond the first-generation stage, as represented by the USAF’s F-117 Stealth Fighter. The GD/MD proposal was selected in January 1988,but by early 1990 the pair admitted technical difficulties with composite materials and the radar, and a 30-percent weight increase. Although a critical design review was completed in October of that year, Cheney complained that the contractors had failed to produce reliable cost estimates for completing the development, or for production.

The Navy instead chose to replace its Grumman A-6 strike aircraft with the MD (later Boeing) F/A-18E/F Super Hornet, and join the F-35 program for an eventual carrier-based stealthy warplane. It continues to explore full-RCS reduction equivalent to that expected from the A-12, via the Northrop Grumman X-47B UCAV demonstrator program.