The Air Force plans to award a contract to build its new bomber to a single vendor by next spring or summer as part of its ongoing effort to engineer a stealthy long range bomber that can evade advanced air defenses, service leaders said Sept. 15 at the Air Force Association Air and Space Conference at National Harbor, Maryland.
“We’re about ready to enter into the next phase of the bomber. We’ve spent the last couple of years refining the requirements and maturing the technology. Within the next year we will down-select to one contractor and then start the heavy lifting of building the first bomber and testing,” Lt. Gen. Ellen Pawlikowski, military deputy for Air Force acquisition, told Military.com in an interview.
The new Long-Range Strike Bomber program, or LRS-B, plans to have new planes in the fleet by the mid-2020s. The Air Force ultimately plans to acquire as many as 80 to 100 new bombers for a price of roughly $550 million per plane, she added.
The Air Force has made the Long Range Strike Bomber one of its top priorities and successfully protected it from the cuts other weapons programs have sustained.
Over the last two to three years, the Air Force has worked closely with industry as part of the research and technology phase of the program. So far, the service has made a $1 billion technology investment in the bomber program as part of an effort to explore the realm of the possible for the aircraft. The new LRS-B is slated to replace the existing fleet of 1980’s-era B-2 stealth bombers.
“We have spent a lot of time understanding what is in the scope of technology. The bomber reflects the need for stealth, the need for speed, the need for agility as well as the value of situational awareness and sensors. We are going to exploit the best of the technology that we can bear within an affordable price,” Pawlikowski added.
Although much of the details of the LRS-B development are not publically available, Air Force leaders have said the aircraft will likely be engineered to fly unmanned and manned missions. Air Force officials also want it to be nuclear capable and have the ability to cross the globe in hours.
“Combining with the weapons that it will carry and the suite that goes with the bomber it will be able to essentially put anywhere in the world at risk within a short period of time,” she said.
The new aircraft will be designed to have global reach, in part by incorporating a large arsenal of long-range weapons. The LRS-B is being engineered to carry existing weapons as well as emerging and future weapons, Pawlikowski explained.
In particular, the aircraft is being engineered to evade increasingly sophisticated air defenses which now use faster processors and sensors to track even stealthy aircraft at longer ranges.
“From the beginning, the Long-Range Strike Bomber has focused on being able to get at those tough targets. It is being designed to be able to take on the most adverse air defenses and be able to penetrate and deliver weapons,” she said.