Air Force Hints at Delay in Long Range Strike Bomber Contract

The Air Force’s acquisitions chief signaled he would be willing to push back the awarding of a contract to the Fall.

The Air Force’s acquisitions chief signaled he would be willing to push back the awarding of a contract to the Fall for the Long Range Strike Bomber to ensure the program is done right.

“It’s gonna be done when it’s done,” Assistant Air Force Secretary William LaPlante told a group Thursday morning at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, DC. “It’s more important that we do this right.”

LaPlante had said in May that he expected a decision by July, though Air Force Secretary Deborah James on Wednesday pushed the date further along, saying it could happen in August or September.

The Air Force has to decide between Northrup-Grumman and a team made up of Boeing and Lockheed Martin to be the primary contractor for the bomber.

Ultimately, the Air Force expects to buy between 80 and 100 of the long-range bombers, Lt. Gen. Ellen Pawlikowski, military deputy for Air Force acquisition, said.

Officials have estimated the bombers will cost $550 million each.

LaPlante told the CSIS audience he is now being asked that question daily. But he said the Air Force will not be rushed into a decision.

“If someone comes to me and says we want to do one more thing [before awarding the contract], I’m not going to say, ‘No, no, you can’t do that’,” he said. “This [weapons system] is something that’s going to be with us for 50 years.”

During his remarks on Thursday, LaPlante said he has found the biggest drag on Air Force acquisition programs is changing software, and in particular software related to providing cyber security.

It changes constantly, he said, with the problem often manifesting itself in the time it takes to develop a program.

What should be a five-year process on average, he said, has become seven years.

Most people assume the longer time is the result of bureaucracy, he said, but it’s not.

“I’m not saying we don’t do bureaucracy [in the Air Force] – it’s one of our core competencies,” he quipped. “But that’s not what’s causing five years to become seven.”

Bryant Jordan can be reached at

About the Author

Bryant Jordan
Bryant Jordan is a reporter for He can be reached at Follow him on Twitter at @BryantJordan.
  • Jes Looking

    Could be waiting to see if they can build a new plane at all first, the F-35 isn't promising. Possibly waiting for a good time to substitute a 'B' for the 'M' in the price. Could be a delay to see which team has the best offer to the right politician.

    • Michael

      I'd say it a lesson learned from program like the f-35. Doing things right and carefully (to a reasonable amount) is paramount.

      Since cybersecurity is merely an extension of electronic warfare, I interpret the "change in software" as a fallback and correction more than an adaptation to a new thing.

      All I hope is that they are ensuring that they got a flexible platform, instead of succumbing to that stealth delirium and chop thing like range, or build a bomber that can only carry 4 types of bombs.

  • Chris W.

    Maybe someday writers will spell Northrop Grumman correctly……

    • Michael

      Not just the writers. Ever heard of a company named Locheed Martin?

  • Dfens

    "Officials have estimated the bombers will cost $550 million each." And if they cost two or three or even 5 times that we will have very stern faces when we sign the checks.

  • Dfens

    “This [weapons system] is something that’s going to be with us for 50 years.” Because the stupid US taxpayer is finally conditioned to think that's ok.

  • Charles

    Officials have estimated the bombers will cost $550 million each.
    Based on what year's dollar value? 1950?

    • Dfens

      It will cost $550 million just like the F-35 cost $35 million each.

  • JJMurray

    Is this a manned or unmanned bomber? After all, the USAF keeps telling us everything can be done by drones now-a-days so are they going with an unmanned long range bomber or have they decided that you really DO want a person in the cockpit because software is not infallible.

    • KevinEleven

      they have said it's to be a manned bomber, with possible option for an unmanned variant. The sticking point for a human in the cockpit of a bomber deals with its ability to carry nuclear weapons. I haven't heard too many politicians arguing for drones lobbing nukes yet.

  • B52mechanic

    The question is with all the various options of getting explosives on a target, do we really need a NEW long range bomber? Rebuilt B-52's can continue to do what they have done since Vietnam, bringing mass tons of ordinance on any target anywhere outside of China and Russia. For those targets, we have sub and ship launched cruise missiles and ICBM's that can take out targets there.

    Unmanned aircraft are the way of the future so whatever design is arrived at, there shouldn't be a cockpit on the aircraft, thus saving billions of $ in the design and manufacturing process. It seems to me that lower cost drones could be used en-mass to overwhelm any opponents air defenses. while many drones may be destroyed in the process, many will get through to the target, with out the loss of one aircrew member. The downside to this scenario is that the Russia and China can create the same scenario and overwhelm our Fleet or continental air defenses with swarms of their drones and have the same end results.

  • Lance

    I'd say kill the drone bomber program and countinue to update and maintain our current bomber fleet.

    • anon

      short sighted

  • RunningBear

    I truly hope the LRS-B does not bog down into the morass of the UCLASS!

  • Jim

    Dateline 2050:

    Lockheed GrumMart Boeing announced the government cancellation of the $4 billion LRSB program.

    “We couldn’t get the cloaking device to work in time for some impatient critics” said former Senator Sam Smith. Company spokesman, former Air Force general Sheila Jones said Negotiations over cancellation fees will begin presently.
    Lockheed GrumMart Boeing is hoping for the acquisition of Manhattan as compensation.

    In other news, the Air Force announced that they are installing new avionics packages in the 30 remaining B-52’s currently flying missions over Yemen. They are also considering a re-engining of those aircraft to replace the 80 year old engines in them now…”

  • Old391

    Lets see Boeing is having problems with their Tanker right now, Lockheed is having all sorts of trouble with their F-35, Lockheed never built a bomber, Boeing hasn't built a bomber since 1963. Northrop built the bomber in the inventory today

    Be interested to see what happens as it is Northrop against the team of Boeing and Lockheed, who between the two have produced an aircraft on time or Budget

    • Old391

      Meant to say NO aircraft on time and budget

      • Dfens

        Boeing built most of the B-2, not that it gives them any special qualifications for this program.

      • Old391

        but they have really haven't built a bomber from design to production since the B-52

      • Dfens

        That's true. The B-2 was a Northrop design.

    • Brainiac

      Yeah you make some great points…

      Boeing (McDonnell-Douglas) produced over 2000 Apache helicopters, 1480 F-18 Hornets, 1200 F-15 Eagles and hundreds of thousands of weapon systems in the past 40 years, on schedule and on budget…

      Northrop made 21 bombers.

      Seems comparable. The fact is Boeing is great at producing aircraft. A 3 year delay on the most advanced commercial airplane in the world or a 6 month delay on a converted tanker is peanuts compared to what the F-35 fiasco has become.

      But Lockheed has the design geniuses. They can't build worth a hoot (*cough* F-22/F-35*) but these bombers aren't just stealth weapon delivery transports. They're complicated electronic warfare management devices, and in order to integrate with the next generation airplane and UAV fleet, who do you think really has the advantage? The incumbent, or Northrop?

    • Ed Orr

      I think the B-52 was built by Boeing, and is currently partially maintained by them for major projects. Tinker Air Depot maintains otherwise and I think that is where the new avionics package will be installed.

  • xXTomcatXx

    Well done LaPlante! Finally someone in the DoD has the stones to stand against the pressure to award contracts. When you rush a contract award you end up with a boondoggle where the taxpayer doesn't get what they were expecting and the contract allows for the contractor to still makes a ton of money. Get it right the first time.

    • Dfens

      "Stones" and the DoD are mutually exclusive.

    • VKM7485

      beware of the good idea fairy

  • PCO Mike

    Old contracting saying…."you can either get it good or fast, but not both"

  • Scott

    This is already the zillionth delay since they announced they would "build a new bomber by 2018". I thought at the time they were full of doogie doo–maybe someone should fire the Air Force, they can't seem to do any acquisition right.

  • Mike

    Boeing (McDonnell-Douglas) produced over 2000 Apache helicopters, 1480 F-18 Hornets, 1200 F-15 Eagles and hundreds of thousands of weapon systems in the past 40 years, on schedule and on budget…
    I don't think many of the McDonnell-Douglas folks are around anymore. Boeing makes good civ- airlines and tankers. The concept model (see photo with article) looks close to the B-2. LM is great for cost over runs and sh**! (F-22/F-35). But we all know who's going to get the contract (Boing/LM lobbyists) Good Luck AF.

  • Air Force Hints at Delay in Long Range Strike Bomber Contract