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Boeing, Lockheed Drop Challenge to Next-Gen Bomber Contract

Boeing Co., the world's largest aerospace company, and Lockheed Martin Corp., the world's biggest defense contractor, have dropped their legal challenge to the Air Force's decision to award the next-generation bomber contract to Northrop Grumman Corp.

Chicago-based Boeing on Friday announced the move in a statement.

"While we remain firmly convinced of the validity of the issues raised in our protest to the Government Accountability Office of the Long Range Strike-Bomber contract award to Northrop Grumman, the Boeing - Lockheed Martin team has decided not to pursue further challenges to that award, either through the GAO or in federal court," Todd Blecher, a spokesman for Boeing's defense, space and security unit, said in the statement.

"This decision was taken, as always, with the best interests of our customer and the warfighter in mind," he added.

The statement came the same day the Air Force unveiled a conceptual image of the so-called B-21 bomber -- which many observers noted bears a strong resemblance to the existing B-2 -- and little more than a week after the GAO, the investigative arm of Congress, denied the initial protest.

Service officials said the ruling validated its comprehensive source-selection process.

The Air Force in October awarded Northrop, maker of the B-2 Spirit stealth bomber and drone aircraft, the $21.4 billion initial contract as part of the LRS-B program. The service plans to buy a total of 100 of the next-generation bombers at an inflation-adjusted cost of $564 million per plane to replace its aging fleet of B-52 Stratofortresses made by Boeing and a least a portion of its B-1 fleet.

The Air Force currently has 158 bombers, including 76 B-52 Stratofortresses, 63 B-1 Lancers and 20 B-2 Spirits, yet with the exception of the latter, many of the planes are susceptible to precision-guided weapons developed by China, Russia, Iran and North Korea. The existing bombers are also aging. 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.

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 lasers and directed-energy systems, hypersonic missiles and other new and emerging technologies.

Even so, the new acquisition program -- like other major weapons development efforts -- will face sustained scrutiny on Capitol Hill, especially with a potential price tag of some $80 billion. Sen. John McCain, a Republican from Arizona and chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, is already criticizing the cost-plus contract, arguing that such an agreement will lead to cost overruns.

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