Pentagon watchdog to review Air Force B-21 bomber's secrecy: report

Pentagon watchdog to review Air Force B-21 bomber's secrecy: report
© Screen shot of Air Force graphic

The Pentagon’s inspector general has begun a review of whether the Air Force is being too secretive with the basic information for its new B-21 Long Range Strike Bomber, Bloomberg reported.

The office was ordered “to conduct an evaluation and submit a report” to Congress within six months on “the security strategy, controls and program protection plan” of the B-21, according to a provision in the government-wide spending bill for this fiscal year, passed last month.

Little has been revealed about the review, and the details of the $80 billion program to develop and build the B-21 have been kept closely guarded. 

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A spokesman for the inspector general’s office told Bloomberg the review is based on Appropriations Committee’s language and “further conversations with committee staff.” Additional details were not given because the aircraft and evaluation are classified.

The Air Force awarded the contract to build the B-21 to Northrup Grumman in October 2015, to be fielded in the mid-2020s. Beyond that, the service has revealed little else, citing that the program is classified to keep potential adversaries from learning key details about the stealth aircraft such as size, weight and power.

In February 2016, the Air Force released a basic image of the bomber and later cost goals per aircraft and the names of top subcontractors.

But lawmakers are not pleased with the limited information and have raised concerns about the oversight of the advanced technology.

In March 2016, Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John McCainJohn Sidney McCainAnother recession could hit US in 2019, says credit union association chief R-E-S-P-E-C-T: One legacy of Franklin and McCain is up to us To cure Congress, elect more former military members MORE (R-Ariz.) tried repeatedly to have Air Force officials reveal basic information such as the value of the development contract awarded to Northrop.

“Why would you not want to tell the American people how you are going to spend their dollars?” McCain asked Lt. Gen. Arnold Bunch, the Air Force’s deputy assistant secretary for acquisition. “Why shouldn’t the average citizen know the cost of a whatever — how many tens of billions of dollars — $80 billion to $100 billion program? Shouldn’t the taxpayers know that?”

The new IG review is looking “across the spectrum” at what the Air Force is disclosing with an intent to “balance program classification with the transparency that we’re shooting for,” Bunch told reporters Monday.

“We believe we’ve got it balanced properly,” Bunch said, but the inspector general is “analyzing how much we are releasing or are not releasing, to give us recommendations on how to move forward.”