A key component of US military power is to get a major upgrade. Pentagon officials said Tuesday that Northrop Grumman will build up to 100 new long-range stealth bombers for the Air Force, at a cost of $79 billion. It’s arguably the most important US military initiative in years.
Details of Northrop’s bomber design remain classified, but experts agree on what is required. “Stealth, a payload capacity of approximately 20,000 pounds and a range of 4,000 to 5,000 nautical miles,” according to Mark Gunzinger, an analyst at the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments in Washington, DC.
Those capabilities, combined with a network of overseas bases, will allow the US to maintain an important advantage over military rivals. Russia and China have long-range bomber capabilities, but neither can match the reach and sophistication of the US program, which can reliably hit targets anywhere in the world.
The Pentagon is counting on the new bomber’s radar-evading design, which should allow the aircraft to penetrate the sophisticated air defenses that Russia and China are deploying in growing numbers. The bomber will also be capable of carrying nuclear weapons, giving it value as a strategic deterrent.
Northrop will build 21 bombers by 2025 and the remaining 79 over the following decades. Pentagon accountants estimate each bomber will cost $790 million, including development costs. That’s actually pretty cheap. The Air Force’s last bomber, the B-2, set taxpayers back around $2 billion for each of 21 copies.
Northrop was widely expected to win. Having built the B-2, the company has more recent bomber experience than rivals Lockheed Martin and Boeing. Northrop has also developed a small, stealthy robotic bomber prototype for the Navy.
General Mark Welsh, the Air Force chief of staff, praised Northrop’s design during the announcement. “Its range, survivability and payload flexibility will ensure we can execute our global power mission.”
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