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This image in a new Northrup Grumman ad that aired during the Super Bowl highlights its Long Range Strike Bomber program. Northrop Grumman won the coveted Air Force contract to build the next-generation stealth bomber, the Pentagon announced Tuesday, Oct. 27, 2015.

This image in a new Northrup Grumman ad that aired during the Super Bowl highlights its Long Range Strike Bomber program. Northrop Grumman won the coveted Air Force contract to build the next-generation stealth bomber, the Pentagon announced Tuesday, Oct. 27, 2015. (YouTube screengrab)

WASHINGTON — Northrop Grumman has won the coveted Air Force contract to build the next-generation stealth bomber, the Pentagon announced Tuesday.

Northrop Grumman beat out a competing Long Range Strike Bomber design offered by Boeing and Lockheed Martin to build the first 21 of 100 expected new bombers. The initial $35.3 billion award announced Tuesday pays for the research, development and procurement of the first 21 aircraft.

The new bombers “will allow the Air Force to operate in tomorrow’s high end threat environment,” Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James said.

The program is highly classified and the Air Force did not offer many details on the design or a prototype illustration of the new bomber.

The bomber, which is expected to be fielded in the 2020s, will have conventional and nuclear capabilities and is expected to be produced in manned and unmanned variants.

In the briefing Tuesday, the Air Force announced it will pay $564 million per bomber for the first 21 aircraft, for a total initial procurement cost of $11.8 billion. Research and development for the first bombers is expected to cost $23.5 billion, the Air Force said.

Secretary of Defense Ash Carter said the bomber, known commonly as the “B-3,” would serve as the “backbone of the Air Force’s future strike and deterrence capabilities.”

The contract has been closely watched for years for clues on what future capabilities the next stealth bomber might have. The Air Force has said repeatedly that to keep costs down, it has relied upon DOD technologies already under development or in use.

“It's not only that some of this stuff has been wind-tunneled, or prototyped, or flown,” Air Force Assistant Secretary for Acquisition William LaPlante said last week. “Some of the components end up being used today.”

The bomber will be upgraded continually to meet technology advances or evolving threats, LaPlante said.

The new bomber will replace the two oldest airframes: the 76 B-52 Stratofortresses and the 63 B-1 Lancers still in service. When operational, the new bombers will join the fleet of 20 B-2 stealth bombers, of which only 11 or 12 are available to deploy at any given time, the Air Force said last month.

After the initial 21 aircraft are fielded, the service will purchase the remaining bombers on a fixed-price contract.

The bomber is one of the three legs of the nation’s strategic deterrent against nuclear attacks. The Air Force also seeks to modernize and ultimately replace its 1970s-era arsenal of silo-launched Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missiles. The Navy is in the early stages of a $60-billion, Ohio-class nuclear ballistic submarine replacement program, and will purchase 12 new nuclear ballistic submarines at a cost of $5 billion each.

The Congressional Budget Office reported in January that the total cost to replace all three legs of the nation’s nuclear defenses is $348 billion during the next 10 years.

copp.tara@stripes.com Twitter: @TaraCopp


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