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Air Force Delays New Bomber Contract by 'Couple of Months'

The U.S. Air Force is delaying the award of a contract to develop a next-generation bomber by a "couple of months," a general said.

The latest schedule slip was acknowledged on Tuesday by Lt. Gen. Arnold Bunch, military deputy for the office of the assistant secretary of the Air Force for acquisition, during a hearing of the House Armed Services Committee's Seapower and Projection Forces Subcommittee.

"This is a case, sir, where we need to go slow to go fast," he said. "We've got a fair, deliberate, disciplined and impartial process anytime that we do a competition. And we've been transparent and working with industry trying to get this thoroughly done and documented so we can make that decision. It's coming soon. That's about as good as I can give you."

The general was then pressed by the subcommittee's chairman, Randy Forbes, a Republican of Virginia. "Do we have any idea whether that's going to be two months, 10 years? When what do we think?" the congressman asked.

"Sir, my hope is it's within the next couple of months," Bunch said. "But we have details that we still have to work through to make sure we're doing it fair and make sure we're going through he process."

The so-called Long Range Strike-Bomber, or LRS-B, is one of the most closely watched defense acquisition programs underway. The contract was initially expected to be announced in the spring, then summer and now fall.

The service wants to buy between 80 and 100 new bombers at no more than $550 million apiece to replace its aging fleet of B-52 Stratofortresses made by Boeing Co. and a least a portion of its B-1 fleet.

A team led by Northrop Grumman Corp., maker of the B-2 bomber, is competing against another headed by Boeing Co., the world’s largest aerospace company, and Lockheed Martin Corp., the world's largest defense contractor.

Forbes also asked Bunch and Randall Walden, director of the Air Force Rapid Capabilities Office, about the mistaken cost estimates for the program submitted to Congress.

The Air Force this year estimated the so-called Long Range Strike Bomber, or LRSB, would cost $58 billion over a decade, up from a previous estimate of just $33 billion — though the correct figure is closer to $42 billion.

Walden said he was "very confident" in the program office's ability to provide accurate cost estimates, which he said were relatively stable at $41.4 billion in 2015 and $41.7 billion in 2016. Bunch acknowledged it was a "regrettable error" and that officials are conducting a review of the process to determine what led to the mixup.

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