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Northrop Grumman has won the contract to build the US Air Force’s next-generation Long Range Strike Bomber (LRS-B). Defense Secretary Ash Carter and Air Force leadership announced that Northrop beat out the team of Boeing and Lockheed Martin for the contract, which is expected to top $55 billion over the life of the program. It’s the largest military aircraft contract since Lockheed Martin won the Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) more than a decade ago.
Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James said the bomber would “allow the Air Force to operate in tomorrow’s high-end threat environment” and praised the work that went into the selection.
The Air Force has not released crucial details about the plane itself. The LRS-B’s size, weight and payload remain unknowns, as do the extent of its stealth capabilities.
The Pentagon did not even disclose the value of the award, leaving the aerospace community to guess at the dollar amount of the initial development contract. The Air Force did release the total expected development cost for LRS-B, as well as an average procurement unit cost. Two independent government cost estimators projected that each bomber will cost roughly $511 million in 2010 dollars on average if 100 planes are built.
Another unanswered question is which subcontractors will build the various parts and systems of the new plane, although the US Air Force has already finalized these decisions. After the bomber requirement was announced in 2012, each of the bidders conducted a competition to determine all the components of the aircraft, officials said. Industry is especially keen to learn who will build the LRS-B’s power plant.
Perhaps the most significant unanswered question is whether Boeing-Lockheed, Northrop’s rivals for this contract, will protest the contract being awarded to Northrop. Although industry sources say this is highly likely, the Air Force used not one but two independent cost estimators to look at the program in order to make sure all the bases are covered, offering no reason for anyone to protest.