The Air Force will buy between 80 to 100 of its future stealth bombers that are expected to come online in the mid 2020s, Air Force Secretary Michael Donley told lawmakers today.
"Between 80 and 100 is the target, this program is very much focused on affordability and poised for technical success," said Donley during a Senate Appropriations defense subcommittee hearing this morning. This is a significant reduction from reports earlier this year that hinted at a 175-plane buy.
He then gave a little more insight into how the airplane will develop when he revealed that the tech used in the plane will come largely from other programs. We already knew this was likely true for the aircraft's engines but there had been speculation as to how much of the existing technology was already developed for a future bomber versus how much had been developed for programs like the F-35 or the various stealthy UAVs that are out there.
"We plan on taking advantage of existing technologies on other programs that are mature, a streamlined management process and a strict limitation on requirements for the system going forward as ways to control cost growth and to keep it on schedule," said Donley.
Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Norton Schwartz then jumped in and reaffirmed many of the known attributes of the plane: that it will be nuclear-capable (at some point), it will be optionally manned and will work as part of the family of strike and ISR systems rather than being a "lone wolf" capable of doing almost every conceivable high-risk strike mission.
The question that now remains is; will early versions of the jet be built with the ability to deliver nuclear weapons and be flown remotely? All of this will likely depend on technology availability and cost.