By any conventional measure (that is, cost), the EELV program is broke hard.
Bloomberg reports the Air Force is projected to spend just shy of $10B on the EELV program in FY12 to FY16. That’s a 54 percent increase—a plus-up of about $3.5 billion—from last year’s estimate for the same period of time.
If there was a 54 percent increase in the number of launches, the increase would make sense. However, no one is saying that’s the case.
EELV was born in the 1990s and was based on the bogus (and metaphorical) assumption that the skies would soon be darkened with satellites. The result: the Air Force’s space launch needs would benefit from this economy of scale and associated cost-sharing.
Personally, I think the whole EELV program was a reflexive and even emotional response to the post-shuttle era’s move back to ELVs. In those days, one bad actor (read Titan) managed to tar existing ELVs in general. Delta and Atlas were the good ELVs…and then there was Titan.
Through the years, the EELV assumptions and the associated business model have proved to be less than completely accurate and while EELV has been a total success as it regards providing a ride to orbit, it has been a major bust on cost.
The Air Force solution to EELV’s cost problem has been advertised as block-buys. That may help, however there is more that can be done.
The real solution is competition. While SpaceX (for example) doesn’t have the same record of success as the long string of uneventful EELV launches, they don’t have the same failed funding legacy either.
If we keep doing what we’ve been doing (two families of boosters single sourced under the United Launch Alliance umbrella), we’ll keep getting what we’re getting (cost explosions).
The alternative, if we’re not already there, is to give someone else a chance to launch national security payloads. Since SpaceX is the only other viable U.S.-based game in town, they’re almost certain to get a chance.