New Bomber Details

The Pentagon is “really, really close” to awarding a contract for the Long-Range Strike Bomber, Air Force acquisition chief William LaPlante said Wednesday, as he provided reporters with a preview of the kinds of information that will be released when the award is announced. The $550 million unit cost of the bomber is based on 100 aircraft, he said, acknowledging that the “80-100” range previously quoted as the overall buy was a fudge factor in case budgets shrink substantially. The figure, stated in 2010 dollars, also doesn’t include development cost, which remains a secret, but will be unveiled later. The cost of the jet will be “one-third to one-quarter” of the cost of the B-2, he asserted, and such comparability figures will be provided at contract award. The $550 million figure was determined by an independent cost estimating committee, which by law must base it on experience with previous programs, but “we’ll try to beat that,” he said. LaPlante did reveal that the first 21 airplanes will be built in five lots, and from them a number of jets will be used as developmental/test aircraft. The number of such aircraft will be “comparable” to the number of KC-46s being used for test, he said, and that number is four. In an apparent major departure from typical practice, LaPlante said the LRS-B has already passed a preliminary design review, which usually happens well after a single contractor is chosen. A service spokeswoman acknowledged this is unusual but couldn’t immediately elaborate on this deviation from the contract norm. Overall, LaPlante asserted to reporters, “We are very confident in the cost and execution of the program.”