The U.S. Air Force announced that it released a request for proposals (RFP) to industry on July 9 for its new Long Range Strike Bomber (LRS-B) program to develop the next generation heavy bomber. The service said it expects to make a contract award next spring.
Detailed requirements for the bomber are classified; in a press release, the Air Force only generally described the platform, which it has designated as a top priority along with the F-35A Joint Strike Fighter and KC-46A tanker. “The new bomber will be a long-range, air-refuelable, highly survivable aircraft with significant nuclear and conventional stand-off and direct-attack weapons payload,” the service said. “The LRS-B will provide operational flexibility across a wide range of military operations.”
The Air Force plans to purchase 80 to 100 LRS-B aircraft, with a targeted average unit procurement cost of $550 million. It aims to declare initial capability of the bomber in the mid-2020s. The new platform will replace the service’s 75 B-52 Stratofortress and 63 B-1B Lancer bombers; its fleet of 20 B-2 stealth bombers has a service life goal to 2058. Northrop Grumman and the team of Boeing and Lockheed Martin have made known their intentions to seek the LRS-B contract.
In a report earlier this month, the Congressional Research Service (CRS) said the Air Force may have already spent a substantial amount on developing the LRS-B, which would help explain its expectation of reaching initial operational capability of the bomber in the next decade. The projected LRS-B budget in the Pentagon’s Future Years Defense Program rises from $258.7 million in Fiscal Year 2013 to $3.4 billion in FY2019, a spending level that suggests a production rather than a development program. The funding stream “may indicate that significant LRS-B development has already been completed, presumably in classified budgets,” the CRS said. Last September, a former deputy assistant of the Air Force for acquisition revealed that the service had issued contracts for risk-reduction work.
Assuming there has been considerable prior development, “the Air Force will be challenged to construct a truly competitive RFP,” the CRS said. In a statement announcing the RFP’s release, Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James said, “We have established an achievable and stable set of requirements that should make this capability a hallmark for the future. We’ve set a realistic target cost for the system and have a procurement strategy which allows us to affordably field a new bomber fleet.”