Selling an $80 billion aircraft programme to the American public was never going to be a cake-walk after the painful and expensive experiences of the Northrop Grumman B-2 and Lockheed Martin F-35.

As one Congressman put it this week, those projects “left a bad taste in everybody’s mouth” and now the air force is back with its begging bowl, seeking more cash for a mostly classified development effort that aims to deliver 100 stealthy Northrop-built B-21 bombers.

Possibly as a means to prevent a public beating, the air force has been dripping out details on the new platform. Last month, we learnt the bomber’s designation and broad design and now we know the top seven ­suppliers, most notably engine maker Pratt & Whitney.

Lawmakers appear harder to convince. Officials estimate that it would cost about $300 million to break the contract with Northrop. But that hasn’t stopped outspoken chair of the Senate Armed Services Committee John McCain calling for the air force to drop its “cost-plus” B-21 contract in favour of a fixed-price development deal that might take “20 to 30 months” to recompete.

There is also an issue of industry consolidation. How the USAF plans to complete future requirements with just one primary bomber builder (Northrop), one advanced fighter manufacturer (Lockheed), one tanker supplier (Boeing) and one combat engine manufacturer (P&W) remains an unanswered question.

B-21 c USAF 640

US Air Force

Source: Flight International