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Air Force Hints at Delay in Long Range Strike Bomber Contract

The Air Force’s acquisitions chief signaled he would be willing to push back the awarding of a contract to the Fall for the Long Range Strike Bomber to ensure the program is done right.

“It’s gonna be done when it’s done,” Assistant Air Force Secretary William LaPlante told a group Thursday morning at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, DC. “It’s more important that we do this right.”

LaPlante had said in May that he expected a decision by July, though Air Force Secretary Deborah James on Wednesday pushed the date further along, saying it could happen in August or September.

The Air Force has to decide between Northrup-Grumman and a team made up of Boeing and Lockheed Martin to be the primary contractor for the bomber.

Ultimately, the Air Force expects to buy between 80 and 100 of the long-range bombers, Lt. Gen. Ellen Pawlikowski, military deputy for Air Force acquisition, said.

Officials have estimated the bombers will cost $550 million each.

LaPlante told the CSIS audience he is now being asked that question daily. But he said the Air Force will not be rushed into a decision.

“If someone comes to me and says we want to do one more thing [before awarding the contract], I’m not going to say, ‘No, no, you can’t do that’,” he said. “This [weapons system] is something that’s going to be with us for 50 years.”

During his remarks on Thursday, LaPlante said he has found the biggest drag on Air Force acquisition programs is changing software, and in particular software related to providing cyber security.

It changes constantly, he said, with the problem often manifesting itself in the time it takes to develop a program.

What should be a five-year process on average, he said, has become seven years.

Most people assume the longer time is the result of bureaucracy, he said, but it’s not.

“I’m not saying we don’t do bureaucracy [in the Air Force] – it’s one of our core competencies,” he quipped. “But that’s not what’s causing five years to become seven.”

Bryant Jordan can be reached at bryant.jordan@military.com.

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