Northrop Grumman awarded massive bomber contract

The new LRS-B aircraft will likely be a similar design to the X-47B drone. Image courtesy of Northrop Grumman.
The new LRS-B aircraft will likely be a similar design to the X-47B drone. Image courtesy of Northrop Grumman.

US defence manufacturer Northrop Grumman has been awarded one of the largest ever contracts for the production of a next-generation bomber.

This bomber, called the Long-Range Strike Bomber (LRS-B) was the subject of a long design competition and is expected to replace the US Air Force’s aging B-2 Spirit stealth bombers.

“The Air Force has made the right decision for our nation’s security,” said Wes Bush, chairman, chief executive officer and president of Northrop Grumman.

“As the company that developed and delivered the B-2 Spirit stealth bomber, we look forward to providing the Air Force with a highly-capable and affordable next-generation Long-Range Strike Bomber.”

While little is known about the bomber design chosen, it will almost certainly retain the stealth abilities of its predecessor, as well as the capacity to carry nuclear weapons.

Based on marketing teasers released by Northrop Grumman, the new bomber will also likely be a similar ‘delta-wing’ design, taking inspiration from the company’s new X-47B drone.

The US Air Force envisages this new bomber will eventually form the backbone of the country’s strike and deterrent abilities.

“The LRS-B will allow the Air Force operate in tomorrow’s high end threat environment, what we call anti-access aerial denial environment. It will also give us the flexibility and the capability to launch from the continental United States air strikes that would be able to strike any location in the world,” said Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James.

Massive cost causes concerns

The initial cost of the project is $55bn in 2010 dollars, covering the production of 100 airframes.

Initially $21bn will be allotted for the engineering and development of the LRS-B and initial low-rate production, before this is ramped up to produce the full number of aircraft.

If previous aircraft procurement programs such as the F-35 and B-2 are anything to go by, the price per aircraft could increase beyond the $511m claimed by Northrop Grumman.

In these cases, rising program costs have resulted in decreasing commitments for aircraft orders, causing the price per aircraft to increase in a process called the ‘death spiral’.

Despite such concerns, Northrop Grumman’s stock price has soared more than 5% today following the announcement.