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Lawmakers express 'serious reservations' about 'B-3' bomber's costs, goals

A B-2 Spirit flies into position on Wednesday, June 11, 2014, during a refueling mission over the northern Atlantic Ocean.

PAUL VILLANUEVA II/U.S. AIR FORCE

By TARA COPP | STARS AND STRIPES Published: September 9, 2015

Weeks before the Air Force is expected to announce which contractor will build the long-range strike bomber, a congressional panel questioned the program’s acquisition goals and costs.

Two designs — one by Northrop Grumman and the other by a collaboration between Lockheed Martin and Boeing — are competing to serve as the replacement for the 50-year-old B-52s and 30-year-old B-1 Lancers. Whichever design is selected will join the 16 B-2 Spirit stealth bombers still in service.

“I have some serious reservations about this,” said Rep. Paul Cook, R-Calif. The potential costs of the new bomber — and the track record of the Air Force’s new air frames, the F-35 and F-22 — will have him watching the program “very closely,” he said.

The next generation bomber, known as LRS-B for “long-range strike bomber” and more commonly as “B-3,” is highly classified. Even the details on how the Air Force has shaped the acquisition program are secret. Details known about the program include that it will continue to employ stealth, and that the program aims to produce up to 100 next-generation bombers with initial fielding in the mid-2020s.

Rebecca Grant, a panelist who worked in the office of the Chief of Staff of the Air Force in the 1990s, said that the Air Force has learned from its program experiences in fielding a new system. As a result, the designs that the service is weighing are more mature than in “any other program we have seen in many a decade,” Grant said, with significant work done ahead of time on critical technologies for radar and propulsion.

Grant said there are far more aspects to the bomber’s development that are unknown, and from an oversight perspective, it would be beneficial to minimize the amount of classified acquisition decisions tied to the aircraft.

Rep. Mike Conaway, R-Texas, expressed doubts that the Air Force can deliver the new platform at the stated cost of $550 million each.

The Air Force has said that would be the procurement cost of the air frame. It does not include an additional $20 billion to $30 billion in research and development spending for the air frame.

copp.tara@stripes.com
Twitter: @TaraCopp
 

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