Northrop Grumman received an Air Force contract on Jan. 21 to build a “coatings facility” at Air Force Plant 42 in Palmdale, Calif. The facility is likely to be used in the manufacture of the B-21 bomber, although the Air Force could not confirm this on Wednesday. “The contract award for the additional facility at our Palmdale Aircraft Integration Center of Excellence is part of the company’s planned growth as we continue to meet our business objectives,” a Northrop spokesman said in a statement. The $35.8 million award is a modification to an existing contract, and calls for a “45,900 square foot coatings facility,” or something potentially 210 feet square, to be built by 2019. Such a space could accommodate three to four B-2 bombers, but there is already a coatings facility for the B-2 at Palmdale, built in 2004. Though Northrop has not said officially that the B-21 will be built at Palmdale, its facility there—where the B-2 bomber was built—has a large volume of unused space, adjacent to its manufacturing line for F-35 fuselages. The design phase of the B-21 is said to be underway at Northrop’s Melbourne, Fla., plant. No funds were obligated on Tuesday, and the Air Force Life Cycle Management organization at Wright-Patterson AFB, Ohio, was the contracting entity.
The Air Force overall reduced its size by 120 aircraft in fiscal year 2021, but kept about the same number of fighter, bomber and attack aircraft, according to data supplied by the service. The F-35 fleet saw the biggest increase while the B-1B bomber fleet saw the largest decline.