By Rebecca Kheel - 10/27/15 06:05 PM EDT
The Air Force’s new fleet of Long Range Strike Bombers will be built by Northrop Grumman, the Pentagon announced Tuesday.
“We believe our decision represents the best value for our nation,” said Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James.
The $55 billion-plus contract covers the first 21 jets out of the 100 sought by the Air Force to replace its aging bomber fleet, including the 30-year-old B-2s. Northrop built the B-2s as well.
The project is projected to be the Pentagon’s biggest in a decade, and comes at a time when its acquisition process is coming under increasing scrutiny from lawmakers.
Defense Secretary Ash Carter said the bomber would be the backbone of the force’s fleet in the 21st century.
“No nation has used airpower to accomplish global reach to compress time and space like the United States,” Carter said. “This allows America’s military to be dominant in the second aerospace century.”
The announcement closes out a four-year process in which Northrop engaged in a fierce battle for the contract against a joint Boeing-Lockheed Martin team.
Pentagon officials at Tuesday’s press conference declined to get into details about why Northrop was chosen.
Many capabilities expected in the new bomber have been kept classified, but the broad strokes expected to be included are stealth, the ability to carry conventional and nuclear weapons and the ability to possibly operate both with or without a pilot.
James said the bombers would allow the Air Force to launch an airstrike from the continental United States to anywhere in the world.
The contract stipulates the procurement cost is to be no more than $550 million each in 2010 dollars.
The Air Force Cost Analysis Agency also did an independent assessment of cost estimates, which found the cost should be $511 million in 2010 dollars. That translates to $564 million in 2016 dollars.
The planes are expected to enter service in the mid-2020s.
After the announcement of the contract, lawmakers began pressing the Pentagon to make sure the costs don't increase.
"We need to keep the Long-Range Strike Bomber on track and hold the Pentagon to its promise of delivering a tested, reliable airplane for $550 million a copy,” Rep. Jackie Speier (D-Calif.) said in a written statement.
“Now that the LRS-B is no longer secret, it's Congress' job to ensure the process doesn't go south — especially as we begin looking under the hood and approaching potential risk areas like systems integration and future weapons development. We must avoid the acquisition malpractice that has shortchanged our national defense in so many other instances."