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All Eyes on Long Range Strike Bomber Contract

Defense contractors and industry observers are eagerly awaiting news from the Pentagon on which company will be selected to develop its future fleet of bombers.

The contract for the U.S. Air Force's so-called Long Range Strike Bomber, or LRS-B, was initially expected to be announced in the spring but was delayed by several months.

Lt. Gen. Arnold Bunch, military deputy for the office of the assistant secretary of the Air Force for acquisition, on Sept. 29 told members of the House Armed Services Committee’s Seapower and Projection Forces Subcommittee that the award would be issued "within the next couple of months."

It appears the announcement is set for this week.

Defense Secretary Ashton Carter last week briefed think tank experts in Washington, D.C., that the announcement would come "Monday or early next week," according to Mackenzie Eaglen, a national security analyst at the American Enterprise Institute. Anthony Capaccio and Julie Johnsson, reporters for Boomberg News, on Monday reported the Pentagon plans to award the contract on Tuesday.

The work is estimated to cost at least $42 billion over the next decade alone. 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 stealth 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.

The Air Force currently has 158 bombers, including 76 B-52s, 63 B-1s and 20 B-2s, according to recent remarks by Rep. Randy Forbes, a Republican from Virginia. Indeed, three generations of airman have flown the B-52 in combat, from Vietnam to Afghanistan, and the newest B-52 is more than a half-century old, he said. What's more, many of the planes (with the exception of the B-2s) could be targeted by precision-guided weapons developed by China, Russia, Iran and North Korea.

The next-generation bomber will be designed to fight through surface-to-air missiles, as well as electronic and information attack. It will also accommodate new technologies such as lasers and directed-energy systems, hypersonic missiles and other weapons.

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