CORRECTED THE PENTAGON: The Pentagon wants production of the Air Force’s new bomber put on the fast track, despite the program’s $500 million per-plane price tag.
DoD Comptroller Bob Hale wants the bomber, known as the Long-Range Strike aircraft, to move as quickly as possible through the development and production phases. His comments came during an Aviation Week-sponsored event in Arlington, VA. Service leaders hope to have an aircraft ready for initial operations by 2020, Marilyn Thomas, budget chief with the Air Force’s assistant secretary for financial management, said this week. The Air Force has already set aside $292 million in research dollars for the bomber in their fiscal 2013 budget request. The service plans to spend $6.3 billion into the effort over the next five years. Once developed, the new bomber will replace B-1Bs and B-2s. The new plane will be designed to evade advanced aerial defense systems, employ stealth technologies and carry nuclear weapons.
Early DoD estimates for the program have the aircraft costing roughly $550 million per copy. That figure was included in the Pentagon’s fiscal ’13 budget blueprint sent Monday to Congress. With an anticipated fleet of 80 to 100 aircraft, that comes out to $55 billion for just the bombers. That is a bargain compared to the $2.2 billion per-plane cost of the stealthy B-2, but it dwarfs the $228 million per plane cost of the B-1B, according to service fact sheets. The new bomber’s price tag presumably does not include the costs associated with development of the associated “family of systems” designed to work in tandem with the new aircraft.
Air Force leaders have said those systems could run the gamut from electronic warfare capabilities to anti-aircraft systems.
Former Pentagon acquisition chief and current Deputy Defense Secretary Ash Carter said last July the department would not make the same mistakes, spending-wise, on the new bomber as the pricey B-2. At the time, Carter said the military could not afford an “exquisite” airplane, so keeping costs down on the new bomber would be a priority. Former Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Gen. James Cartwright went a step further that month, saying the United States simply could not afford a new bomber while maintaining its other nuclear commitments. However, during Monday’s fiscal ’13 budget briefing Thomas sought to assuage some of those cost concerns.
Thomas reiterated that the Air Force was drilling down into “proven technologies” for the new bomber. By doing that, the service can save millions in research and development costs since Air Force wouldn’t have to build many of the bomber’s capabilities form scratch, she said. As far as the $550 million per-plane cost, Thomas told reporters the number was “a planning number” and would likely change as the program matured. She did not comment on whether that number would go up or down in the future.
*The corrected story above has been changed to accurately reflect the total cost for a 100-plane purchase of the new bomber as $55 billion, at $550 million per copy. The original piece incorrectly stated the figure as $5.5 billion. We apologize for the error.