Northrop Grumman Wins Contract for New Bomber

NG beat out a coalition of Lockheed Martin and Boeing. (paid subscription required)

My guess is that this was largely driven by the desire to make sure that all the primes had business. Boeing has the new tankers, LM has the F-35, and now NG has this:

Northrop Grumman is the winner of the Long-Range Strike Bomber (LRS-B) contest, beating a rival team with six times its annual sales.

The U.S. Air Force announced Oct. 27 that Northrop Grumman beat a Boeing/Lockheed Martin team in a competition to develop and build 100 of the bombers, which are expected to reach initial operational capability in the mid-2020s. The Pentagon says the next phase of the work, engineering and manufacturing development (EMD), should cost $21.4 billion in 2010 dollars, including the delivery of an unspecified number of test aircraft.

Another $1.9 billion has already been spent on risk reduction, bringing both competing teams through the initial design phase. In 2016 dollars, the estimated EMD cost is $23.5 billion, the Pentagon says. The B-2 cost $37.2 billion to develop in 2016 dollars.

The Air Force also says that the average procurement unit cost for the Northrop Grumman bomber (which does not have a formal designation yet) will be $511 million in 2010 dollars, assuming a 100-aircraft buy ($564 million in 2016 dollars). This figure, the result of two independent Pentagon estimates, is lower than the $550 million (2010 dollars) goal that was set in 2011, when then-Defense Secretary Robert Gates approved the start of the program.


For the time being, however, the make-up of Northrop Grumman’s team is a secret, as are most attributes of the program. Not even the engine subcontractor is disclosed, although the Air Force said today that all major subsystems have been selected. Although most analysts agree it is overwhelmingly likely that the bomber will resemble a smaller cousin of the B-2, a blended wing-body aircraft with two engines and an unrefueled radius of action of around 2,500 nm, no such details have been confirmed.

Note that the range is less than half that of the B-52 and the B-2, and 15 less than that of the B-1, which has been criticized for excessive use of tankers in combat operations.

The payload is not public, but given that it will have two engines, I would expect to be far less than that of the B-2’s 40,000 lbs (to say much less of the B-52’s 70,000 lb payload, and the B-1’s 75,000 lb payload).

My guess is that this would place around a 25,000 lb payload, which means that we are spending an awful lot of money for a similar payload and range performance of the B-47, a medium bomber that first flew in 1947. (FWIW, Aviation Week has pegged the payload and range even lower)

And you wonder why I lament US weapons development and procurement.

Details of the selection process also remain highly classified, but it is likely that the winning bid rested on Northrop Grumman’s operational experience with wide-band, all-aspect stealth technology on the B-2 bomber and the still-secret RQ-180 intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) unmanned air vehicle.

But the winning formula was most likely not just a question of delivering more stealth or more range. In LRS-B, the winner had to meet a complex set of requirements that stress risk reduction, an open systems architecture, agile management and manufacturing technology.

The USAF wants its strategic bomber, and because its first pass at this, the Next Generation Bomber, was expensive enough to make the B-2 look cheap, they trimmed away enough requirements to end up with something equivalent to the FB-111, which really isn’t a strategic bomber at all.

This is absurd.


  1. Anonymous says:

    Oh yeah, just what we need. Another fuckin debacle on cronyism and how a little xtra $$ can find its way into peoples pocket..Looks good in the beginning, employment..then 10 years down the road..If they wouldn't get fancy and stay with what they learned on the b2..that would be a good thing. However, as it usually goes, the new guys will want just their fingerprints on the drawing releases.

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