The chairman of the influential US House committee on strategic forces says the air force’s long-range strike bomber fleet should be delivered sooner than the current estimates, which place “initial capability in the 2020s” and full capability in the 2030s.
The LRS-B programme started in 2012 to buy 80 to 100 new bombers, and the classified programme is only just now about to enter the engineering and manufacturing development (EMD) phase.
Congressman Mike Rogers said at an 8 July Mitchell Institute forum in Washington that the Pentagon has a poor track record when it comes to fielding new weapons systems, and reforms being considered by the House and Senate should be applied to the bomber programme to speed up the procurement process.
“They’re doing it real slow aren’t they?” he says of LRS-B. “It doesn’t matter if you’re talking about the bomber, the F-35, the [army] future combat system – you see it happen over and over and over again.
“The DOD has this 15 and 20 year procurement process and they wind up never getting anything done. We should have a three and five year process. It can be done.”
If the defence acquisition reforms proposed by the House are enacted, Rogers says the bomber purchase should be speed up. “I don’t think that bomber is going to take that long,” he adds.
A Boeing-Lockheed Martin team and Northrop Grumman are competing for the contract, and US Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James said this week that a winner will likely be announced this August or September. The downselect probably won’t happen this month, she says.
The programme is potentially worth as much as $80 billion, according to some estimates, and by the time production scales up in the 2020s the air force will be spending $10 billion annually on its bomber force.