The U.S. Air Force’s former deputy chief of staff for strategic plans and programs is pushing Congress to double the planned size of the new bomber fleet.
As my colleague Bryant Jordan reported at Military.com, retired Lt. Gen. Michael R. Moeller this week called for the service to buy between 150 and 200 aircraft as part of the Long Range Strike Bomber, or LRSB, program — up from the 80 to 100 aircraft the Air Force plans to purchase as part of the acquisition effort awarded last month to Northrop Grumman Corp.
“In the long term, to maintain the bomber force’s viability, the Defense Department should consider funding additional advanced bombers beyond those 100 aircraft before the last B-1s and B-52s retire in 2045,” he concludes in a paper released on Wednesday and titled, “U.S. Bomber Force: Sized to Sustain an Asymmetric Advantage for America.”
Moeller wrote the paper as a non-resident fellow of the Mitchell Institute for Aerospace Studies, which is affiliated with the Air Force Association, an advocacy group based in Arlington, Virginia.
Of course, doubling the fleet of long-range precision-strike bombers may also significantly increase the program’s estimated cost.
The service has said it 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.
That latest unit cost is estimated at $511 million per plane in fiscal 2010 dollars, according to Bill LaPlante, head of Air Force acquisition. Adjusted for inflation, the unit cost is $564 million per plane in 2016 dollars, assuming an order of 100 aircraft, he said.
Northrop won a so-called engineering, manufacturing and development contract valued at $24 billion to develop the technology and deliver an unspecified number of test aircraft. The award also includes options to deliver the first 21 production models of the aircraft.
Meanwhile, the Air Force has already spent $2 billion on the acquisition effort.