The Air Force plans to announce a contract award for their new stealthy long-range bomber aircraft in September of this year, service officials told Military.com.
The contract award for the aircraft was initially expected to arrive earlier this summer. In fact, this new timeline comes on the heels of a series of delays for the award.
The new Long Range Strike Bomber, or LRS-B, is slated to fly alongside and ultimately replace the existing B-2 bomber.
Senior Air Force officials told Military.com that taking extra time at the front end of the process to make sure the selection is the right one will ultimately save much more time and money throughout the longer-term acquisition process. The service plans to field the new bomber by the mid-2020s.
"It will be done when [the contract award is] done. It is fair to say we are in the closing parts of it. This is something that will be with us for 50 years. To build fast, you’ve got to go slow," William LaPlante, Assistant Secretary of the Air Force, Acquisition, said at recent event at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a Washington D.C.-based think tank.
The Air Force ultimately plans to acquire as many as 80 to 100 new bombers for a price of roughly $550 million per plane, Air Force leaders have said.
Over the last two to three years, the Air Force has worked closely with defense companies as part of a classified research and technology phase. So far, the service has made a $1 billion technology investment in the bomber.
Northrop Grumman is competing against a partnership of Boeing and Lockheed Martin for the rights to build the bomber. Northrop Grumman ran a regional Super Bowl ad pitching the company’s experience building Air Force bombers.
The new LRS-B is slated to replace the Air Force’s bomber fleet to include the B-2 stealth bombers.
Although much of the details of the LRS-B development are not publically available, Air Force leaders have said the aircraft will likely be engineered to fly unmanned missions as well as manned missions.
The new aircraft will be designed to have global reach, in part by incorporating a large arsenal of long-range weapons. The LRS-B is being engineered to carry existing weapons as well as nuclear bombs and emerging and future weapons, Air Force officials explained.
In particular, the aircraft is being engineered to evade increasingly sophisticated air defenses which now use faster processors and sensors to track even stealthy aircraft at longer ranges.
-- Kris Osborn can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org