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Air Force official says a continuing resolution could hurt the B-21 program

An illustration shows an artist's rendering of the B-21 Long Range Strike Bomber.

U.S. AIR FORCE

By SAMANTHA MASUNAGA | Los Angeles Times | Published: January 19, 2018

Congress' inability to pass a set budget for this fiscal year could delay delivery of the B-21 bomber, a major project that is key to the revival of the Southern California aerospace industry, an Air Force official warned Thursday.

Undersecretary of the Air Force Matthew Donovan said during an Air Force Association advocacy group breakfast program in Washington that a long-term continuing resolution – a stopgap measure that would restrict funding to fiscal year 2017 levels – would limit execution on the engineering, manufacturing and development phase for the B-21.

Lawmakers have until Friday at midnight to pass a temporary funding bill to prevent a government shutdown.

"This will have the effect of postponing delivery of a key critical strategic capability for the joint war-fighter," Donovan said.

The fiscal year 2017 budget for the B-21 was $1.3 billion, compared to the $2 billion budget request for fiscal year 2018.

Donovan declined to specify what the fiscal year 2019 budget request could be, saying, "You can expect that it is going to increase as we build up this program and get toward initial production."

Northrop Grumman Corp. won the bomber contract in 2015 and is building the new bomber at the company's aircraft plant in Palmdale, where the B-1 and B-2 were built. Activity there is ramping up, and Northrop Grumman plans to have 5,200 employees at the site by late 2019.

The Pentagon is aiming to buy 100 of the bombers by the mid-2030s for at least $80 billion, though the exact amount is classified. The bomber is expected to reach initial operational capability by the mid-2020s, Donovan said.

However, that timeline could be affected by lower-than-expected funding levels.

"If we're not able to ramp up on our schedule for the acquisition program baseline, then of course, it's going to have an impact on the other end," Donovan said. "We can't make up that time."

Donovan declined to comment when asked during the event about the classified Zuma satellite that launched on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket in Florida almost two weeks ago and was reportedly lost.

However, he signaled a vote of confidence in the Hawthorne space company, saying the Air Force "still has confidence in SpaceX and their launch capabilities," and noted that SpaceX is still certified to launch national security missions for the service.

SpaceX has repeatedly said its Falcon 9 rocket performed correctly during the launch. Northrop Grumman, which built the Zuma satellite, has said it does not comment on classified missions.

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