Tag Archives: Long Range Strike Bomber

The Secretive Team Shaping The Air Force’s New Bomber

Northrop Grumman Super Bowl Ad - LRS-B Concept

Northrop Grumman Super Bowl Ad – LRS-B Concept


“This is the first time the military has built a bomber since the 1980s.

About 80 people on a secretive U.S. Air Force team are overseeing the service’s most sensitive aircraft project in decades. Senior officials say they will keep the stealth aircraft program on track.  The prime contractor will be announced soon.

The bomber team works inside the Air Force’s Rapid Capabilities Office, a unit that specializes in “delivering eye-watering capabilities,” William LaPlante, the service’s acquisition chief, told reporters Wednesday at the Pentagon.

The team is made up of experienced officers working the project’s requirements, maintainers who have worked on these types of planes, and acquisition professionals.

“It’s got our best people there,” LaPlante said. “They love their jobs.”

This is the first time the military has built a bomber since the 1980s, when the stealthy B-2 Spirit was built in secret to preserve its ability to penetrate Soviet air defenses. The current effort, dubbed the Long Range Strike-Bomber or LRS-B, has been wrapped in nearly as much secrecy, and to the same general end: giving American forces a long-term edge.

In an attempt to keep the program from spiraling into the kinds of cost and schedule overruns that severely truncated the B-2 program, the new bomber will be built using mature or existing technologies, Lt. Gen. Arnold Bunch, the Air Force’s military deputy for acquisition, said Wednesday. But that doesn’t mean the plane won’t have a big edge on the battlefield.

“Just because they’re existing and mature doesn’t mean that they’re in the open,” LaPlante said. “It doesn’t mean that any of you even know about them.”

Created in 2003, the Rapid Capabilities Office is built for speed — specifically, for producing battle-ready arms in a fraction of the time it takes the Pentagon’s regular acquisition process. Its mission is to “rapidly develop new capabilities to counter the increasing pace of threat evolution,” according to a 2008 briefing given by Randall Walden, who now runs the RCO.

Specializing in prototyping and unafraid to use commercial equipment, the RCO is a “streamlined acquisition shop that does some of our most sensitive and important work,” LaPlante said.

Among that work is the X-37B, a space drone that the Air Force barely acknowledges exists, and won’t say what it’s been doing on its several orbital missions. The elite group also built a special beacon that aims red and green lights at planes that fly into the restricted airspace around Washington. And it developed and fielded — in just nine months — a surface-to-air missile system to shoot down a hijacked aircraft aimed at government buildings in the area.

But they work on other stuff too, classified projects that are not discussed. And the projects are not “one-off things,” LaPlante said. “I’m talking about things that go into production.”

The RCO operates outside of the Defense Department bureaucracy, reporting directly to LaPlante, Pentagon acquisition chief Frank Kendall, Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James, and Gen. Mark Welsh, the Air Force chief of staff. Almost every week the group talks with senior Pentagon leaders, such as the vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

The group “was chosen for a deliberate reason,” LaPlante said.

The Air Force is imminently expected to announce which contractor will build the program’s 100 aircraft: Northrop Grumman or a team of Boeing and Lockheed Martin. Some cost estimates will be released with the contract award, Air Force officials said, but the program’s overall cost will remain classified.”


Pentagon May Have to “Eat its Young” to Afford Huge Future Programs




“It won’t happen tomorrow, but the Pentagon may have to start eating its young to pay for two of the most expensive weapons in US history: the Air Force’s Long Range Strike bomber and the Navy’s replacement for the Ohio class nuclear missile submarine.


ohio-ssbn-090109-n-1255r-098 Lockheed Boeing Long Range Strike Bomber and General Dynamics Ohio Class Submarine

While the budget picture appears sustainable for the next few years, LRS-B and Ohio Replacement will begin to cost so much as the programs ramp up — along with the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter — there just won’t be enough money to pay for it all.


F-35 Joint Strike Fightre

That’s the estimation of Todd Harrison, the top budget expert at the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessment. His conclusions are based on a new detailed report, Analysis of the FY 2015 Budget Request being released as you read this.

FINAL Weapon Systems Factbook

Why? While the budget picture appears sustainable for the next few years, LRS-B and Ohio Replacement will begin to cost so much as the programs ramp up — along with the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter — that Harrison concludes there just won’t be enough money to pay for it all.

“If you look at fiscal 2020 as a snapshot in time (one year after the end of the FYDP [Future Years Defense Plan]), the Air Force will need $7 billion for the F-35A, $3.4 billion for the KC-46A [tanker], $2.9 billion for EELV [rockets], and $2.2 billion for C-130J [cargo planes]. I’m projecting they will need about $3.5 billion for LRS-B that year. The question becomes,” Harrison says, “can they do all of those major programs at the same time?”

The same is true for the Navy in 2020. They will need about $3.4 billion for Ford-Class aircraft carriers, $6 billion for Marine F-35Bs and Navy F-35Cs, $1.4 billion for the Littoral Combat Ship (LCS), Harrison projects, “and an unspecified amount for SSNs [attack submarines] and DDGs [destroyers] (their SAR projections don’t account for procurements beyond the FYDP, even though the shipbuilding plans says they will keep buying something). My estimate shows they will likely need more than $4 billion that year for Ohio Replacement.”

He analyzed whether they can fund all of those programs at the same time.

“In both cases, I think the answer is no — they will not be able to afford all of the programs currently planned if the topline DoD budget is capped at the BCA level or the PB level.”

The Navy has already admitted it cannot fund its shipbuilding plans because of the costs of the Ohio Replacement in its latest 30-year shipbuilding plan: “The DON can only afford the SSBN procurement costs with significant increases in our top-line or by having the SSBN funded from sources that do not result in any reductions to the DON’s resourcing level.”

The Air Force and Navy would need to cut back on some combination of force levels, acquisitions, and readiness to make enough budget headroom for these programs, Harrison estimates. Since both services have already substantially cut their force levels and lowered readiness, Harrison believe they will have to cut other major acquisition programs to fund LRS-B and Ohio Replacement.

Now the so-called out-years are notoriously difficult to predict, especially in this era of sequestration, Continuing Resolutions and general congressional messiness, but Harrison is making his estimates based on DoD’s own figures and reasonable extrapolations.”


New $110 Billion Air Force Strike Bomber Program May Force Additional, Mammoth Defense Industry Consolidation


northrop-grumman-ad                                                                  Screenshot/www.youtube.com


“The competition for the $100 billion Air Force long-range strike bomber  program includes three of the Pentagon’s top contractors. The contest pits Northrop Grumman against a Boeing-Lockheed Martin team. Big programmatic decisions — like selecting a prime contractor for the F-35 in 2001 and now one for the bomber — unleash market forces that the Pentagon cannot control.

Whoever loses the bomber is likely to come under pressure from investors to make a big move — to either merge with a competitor or acquire a piece of one, predicts aerospace industry analyst Richard Aboulafia, vice president of the Teal Group. “It’s a fascinating horserace … and the outcome could precipitate a big merger or acquisition,” Aboulafia told executives at a recent meeting of the National Aeronautic Association.

Only Lockheed Martin can afford to lose the bomber contract and still have certainty that it will remain a combat aircraft prime contractor, as it will be producing the F-35 joint strike fighter for decades. But Boeing’s and Northrop Grumman’s future as a combat aircraft prime depends on winning the bomber. “If you are not Lockheed, you’d better win this one,” Aboulafia said.

Under one scenario, if Northrop wins, Boeing could seek to acquire if not the entire company, maybe Northrop’s aerospace unit that would have the bomber contract and also builds sizeable components of the F-35. Aboulafia believes this would be the only option for Boeing to remain a combat aircraft prime contractor if it does not win the bomber deal. If Northrop loses, its investors might conclude that it is more lucrative to break up the company and spin off the aerospace division.

The Pentagon in recent years has frowned on mega-mergers of top weapons contractors, a policy that is likely to continue under soon-to-be confirmed Defense Secretary Ashton B. Carter.

But Carter could face challenges to that policy in the near future as defense contractors weigh their options in a tight market. There is growing speculation that such a test might come in 2015 or 2016, following the award of a major Air Force contract to build a new stealth bomber.

Whoever loses the bomber is likely to come under pressure from investors to make a big move — to either merge with a competitor or acquire a piece of one, predicts aerospace industry analyst Richard Aboulafia, vice president of the Teal Group.

The Air Force said it plans to make an award some time in 2015. It has budgeted nearly $14 billion for long-range strike bomber research-and-development work through 2020, and procurement would begin some time in the next decade. Additional funding is said to be tucked in the Pentagon’s classified “black” budget.

For the companies, the contest is a matter of long-term survival because the bomber is the only combat aircraft program up for grabs that is likely to go into production in the next decade.

Boeing continues to manufacture Super Hornet fighter planes for the U.S. Navy and international customers, as well as F-15s. But the last of its current Super Hornet orders would be delivered in 2017 and the last F-15s in 2018, said Aboulafia. Northrop Grumman designed the most recent stealth bomber the Air Force bought in the 1990s, the B-2. The company has military aircraft manufacturing capabilities for both manned and unmanned systems.

Although the Pentagon has drawn a hard line on prime contractor mergers, there might be cases when it might have to reconsider, Aboulafia said. Since the last big wave of industry consolidation in the 1990s, the market has changed dramatically, including the definition of what constitutes a prime contractor. If Northrop doesn’t win the bomber, even if the company is financially healthy and successful, its days as a military airframe prime would be numbered, said Aboulafia. “Does that mean it can sell one or more of its units?” The Pentagon might not be able to make a strong enough case to stop a sale, he said.

“The money you spend is the only real leverage you have,” he said of the Defense Department. “This is a changing environment in terms of investor expectations and company structure. Maybe we’ve forgotten that people do expect either growth or a compelling story to invest their cash.” The companies that are left out of the bomber program will feel pressure from investors, he added. “How do you make your case to Wall Street? An acquisition might be the way forward.”

If the government doesn’t have enough work to keep prime contractors in business independently, it is not clear how it can dictate which units a company can sell, said Aboulafia. “That sounds problematic.”

During his time as chief weapons buyer and deputy secretary of defense, Carter stood firmly behind the idea that market competition is essential to ensure innovation and protect the Defense Department from becoming dependent on monopolies.

Carter told the Senate Armed Services Committee that he continues to believe that the Pentagon should carefully review the implications of industry consolidation before allowing mergers. “I support the review of each proposed merger, acquisition, and teaming arrangement on its particular merits, in the context of each individual market and the changing dynamics of that market,” Carter said in written answers to committee questions submitted before his Feb. 4 confirmation hearing.

“I believe the government must be alert for consolidations that eliminate competition or cause market distortions that are not in the department’s best interest,” Carter said. “During my time as the undersecretary of defense for acquisition, technology and logistics and the deputy secretary, the department took steps to improve and preserve competition in defense procurements, and I would support the creation or continuation of competitive opportunities.”

For military aircraft manufacturers that want to be viable beyond the coming decade, the bomber is the only game in town. The Air Force has plans to buy a trainer aircraft, and both Boeing and Northrop have announced their intent to develop clean-sheet designs for the competition. The Air Force, however, has said it might choose to buy an existing airplane rather than a new design.

The Pentagon also is eyeing a “sixth-generation” fighter, but that program is too far into the future to satisfy the shareholders of whichever company doesn’t get selected to build the bomber. “A sixth-gen fighter is not going to come soon enough to save a military airframe prime that doesn’t get this,” said Aboulafia.

If the Air Force sticks with its goal of buying 80 to 100 bombers, the program could be worth more than $100 billion. The Air Force has championed the bomber as one of its top three acquisition priorities.

In his statement to the Senate Armed Services Committee, Carter said he would support the program. The Air Force, he wrote, “requires a new generation of stealthy, long-range strike aircraft that can operate at great distances, carry substantial payloads, and operate in and around contested airspace.”