The Pentagon announced the award of an indefinite delivery/indefinite quantity (IDIQ) contract to Northrop Grumman on June 3 for ongoing modernization and sustainment of the B-2A Spirit bomber. The IDIQ contact comes with a ceiling of $9.9 billion; at the same time, Northrop Grumman is preparing for the possibility of its building the Long Range Strike Bomber (LRS-B) that will replace the B-2.
The contract calls for “B-2 enhancements and sustainment logistics elements, including sustaining engineering, software maintenance and support equipment” of the flying-wing, low-observable bomber, which Northrop Grumman first delivered to the U.S. Air Force in December 1993. The Air Force now operates 20 B-2s. The service obligated $6.3 million in Fiscal Year 2014 research, development, test and evaluation funds at the time of the award for the common very-low-frequency receiver (CVR) Increment 1 communications upgrade, which will cost $26.5 million. “CVR Increment 1 will provide B-2 aircrew another, more reliable means to receive Presidential force direction via emergency action messages,” the USAF has said of the upgrade. The B-2’s original very-low-frequency communications system was deferred in 1992 because of budget constraints.
Work will be conducted at Northrop Grumman’s Palmdale, Calif., facility and Whiteman Air Force Base, Mo., where the 509th Bomb Wing that operates the B-2 is based; as well as Tinker AFB, Okla.; Wright-Patterson AFB, Ohio; Edwards AFB, Calif.; and Hill AFB, Utah. The contract has a five-year base period to May 2, 2019, with an option to extend to 2024.
Last month, Northrop Grumman announced that it will expand its Manned Aircraft Design Center of Excellence adjacent to Melbourne International Airport in Florida to include a new 220,000-sq-ft building and 300 more employees. “These investments are part of the company’s ongoing effort to improve its strategic alignment with its customers’ needs for increasingly innovative and affordable products, services and solutions,” the company said.
U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) said the expansion, which was two years in planning and called “Project Magellan,” factors in Northrop Grumman’s bid for the USAF’s next-generation LRS-B bomber. “Northrop’s officials have said that the new design and engineering [capacity] is the first phase and then if they win the competition…they’ll go to the assembly and a much larger space with a much expanded workforce,” Nelson said in a video published by Florida Today. “This is great news for the Space Coast.” Florida Gov. Rick Scott (R) said the company could invest $500 million and create 1,800 new jobs.
The Pentagon has expressed a need for 80 to 100 new bombers and has declared the program one of its top priorities. Northrop Grumman faces competition from the team of Boeing and Lockheed Martin, which announced a partnership to compete for the LRS-B program last October, with Boeing acting as prime contractor.