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Posted at 1:29 p.m. on June 13, 2014
The Air Force’s top acquisition chief said Friday that the department is “days away” from seeking proposals from industry on the mostly classified new Long-Range Strike Bomber, one of its three top procurement priorities. Unless it isn’t: “I’m learning in the Pentagon, ‘days away’ can go on for a long time,” William LaPlante joked.
Speaking at the Atlantic Council, LaPlante shared additional information on the timeline and expectations for the bomber that the Air Force plans to buy 80-100 of by 2026 at a cost of as much as $550 million each (although affiliated costs could drive the price up, and analysts suggest the total price could near $81 billion).
The new bomber has been under development since 2007, got derailed shortly thereafter and has since been reborn in modified form as a “family of systems.” For fiscal 2015, the Obama administration has requested $914 million in research and development for the project. The program is secretive enough that the Government Accountability Office recently criticized the Defense Department’s nuclear budget forecast for not including any bomber spending in part out of fear that the information was too sensitive.
And the current bomber fleet is aging rapidly.
The final request for proposals from industry is about to hit the street “soon,” LaPlante said, with the plan being to receive proposals by late summer or early fall, followed by source selection — determining the proposal with the best value — by early next year.
Some industry heavy hitters, like Northrop Grumman, are expected to seek the contract, with Boeing and Lockheed Martin already announcing a team last year to go for it.
LaPlante said he wasn’t able to discuss too much about what was involved given classification, but he said the Air Force would be looking for “relatively mature technologies” and would want to “build the first version knowing it’s not going to have everything on it we want or will want.”
The other top procurement priorities LaPlante mentioned are the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter and KC-46A refueling tanker.