Air Force Keeps Bomber Price Tag at $550 Million

Air Force Keeps Bomber Price Tag at $550 Million

The U.S. Air Force expects its next-generation bomber to cost about $550 million per aircraft, excluding development costs, the service’s No. 2 civilian said.

“We’re still using that as a pretty firm chalk line for those companies that are bidding on it,” Undersecretary Eric Fanning said during a breakfast with reporters on Tuesday in Washington, D.C.

“There are a number of people who think it’s too low of a number and we’re not going to get the requirements out of the bomber that we need,” he added. “But what I’m seeing … is this is keeping both the Air Force and the contractors pretty disciplined about what they propose putting into the bomber.”

The figure refers to the estimated unit production cost of the Long-Range Strike Bomber, or LRS-B, and doesn’t include research and development expenses, which are likely to be significant. Fanning declined to specify what the latter might be, only that they wouldn’t “double” the overall cost of the plane.

The new bomber is one of the Air Force’s top three acquisition programs, along with the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter and the KC-46 refueling tanker. The service requested $700 million for “strategic bombers” in fiscal 2015, which begins Oct. 1, a $100 million increase from this year, according to Pentagon budget documents.

The Air Force may buy between 80 and 100 of the aircraft, which are designed to succeed the B-2 Spirit made by Northrop Grumman Corp. Lockheed Martin Corp., the world’s largest defense contractor, has teamed up with Boeing Co., the world’s largest aerospace company, to challenge Northrop for the work.

The undersecretary said the Air Force is “still hewing pretty close” to the target production cost in part because former Deputy Defense Secretary Ashton Carter “was passionate about” using it as a requirements-shaping constraint on the development process, Fanning said.

The service has said the bomber will have the option to be unmanned and able to penetrate increasingly sophisticated enemy defenses — so-called anti-access, area-denial, or A2-AD, environments.

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Why are we replacing the most advanced stealth bomber (BY FAR STILL)? In a world where there are other assets that are almost obsolete and we have to pick and choose? For example. We only have purchased 250 F22’s. We have sent F16’s and F15’s to Poland and Lat. Wouldn’t 12 F22’s been a much better deterrent?

Ignoring the development cost is nothing but more smoke and mirrors. It hides the real cost of the machine. But, if the contractor would want to absorb 100% of the development cost it get’s my vote. That’s actually how small business runs in this country, just not our military/industrial complex. Cruise missiles are a whole lot cheaper.

There are only 20 B-2s. Buying more would be expensive considering they’d have a limited lifetime; they have serious constraints around sorte rates, and are limited by pilot endurance. The B-2 probably would also not be able survive well defended airspace (or if it still can, not for much longer). That is a requirement for the new bomber. I would like to see more F-22s though, with the missing, originally planned upgrades installed.

We only have 187 F-22s.

You mean besides the Russian PAK DA?

Always good for a laugh. Since, broad-band stealth (tail-less bat-wings help do that) or not on a sub-sonic airframe, any new big bomber will be unsurvivable when penetrating modern IADS. For strategic strike and interdiction into stiff IADs, it is better to invest in stand off weapons like Tomahawk block 4, JASSM-ER and follow on’s for stand-off weapons. As for permissive air CAS, long-range, loitering strike, can be handled by much more affordable technology.

The PAK DA is an idea that exists on paper. It’s combat capability amounts to paper cuts and jamming staplers. Let’s not get too worked up about it.

It’s a fully funded paper cut that enters production in 2020. Reactionary funding (i.e. waiting till the PAK DA is built) is the quickest way to squander dollars by having to go back and fix the design you rushed because you have to expedite the capability to the war-fighter. With a program as critical as a long range bomber you’re smarter starting the design early to make sure you work out as much of the kinks as possible before you actually need it.

A good example is the Ohio replacement program. It’s been in development since 2011 roughly and the first one won’t be built till nearly 2030. You design for the threats of tomorrow not what’s on the battlefield today.

A half billion dollars a pop! Not including development costs? What kind of racket are they trying to pull? Did I read that correctly?

Look for eased requirements as time goes on. In 10–15 years, you won’t hear them talking about an IADS penetrating craft.

That cost of half a billion per airplane is pretty funny given that the B-2 cost twice that, and the F-22 cost twice per pound what the B-2 cost. The F-35 is coming in at even more than the F-22 cost per pound of airplane despite the fact that they originally said it was supposed to cost $35 million per airframe. Obviously they can hang whatever BS number they want on the cost per airplane, but what it will really cost is quite clear to anyone who is paying attention.

While you have some good points, I just think the Russian economy isn’t going to support it within a relevant time frame. Russian GDP is growing by <2% and they are running deficits propping up their little occupied territories. Not to mention the US is going to cut their petrochemical legs out from under them. They also say they’re going to build new carriers, and that’s not happening anytime soon, no matter what Russia Channel One says…–01-31/russian–

That won’t happen. The profit the defense contractors make off of the design and development phase of the program is the cash cow. None of the companies that compete for this program give a crap about building the airplane as long as they can soak up the free money from the development of this thing for the next 2 to 3 decades they’ll be happy as pigs in slop.

I think we are spending less then $5 billion to get the B-1 capable until the 2040s.. And the planes have low mileage. And we need a new bomber for $550 billion.….. And there are another 20 b-2s okay until 2058.

Lets refurbish some of the aircraft from the Arizona bone yard (military and commercial), make a hole in the floor and drop the bombs. It will be a lot cheaper and we will have the numbers advantage too! We can confuse the enemy radar with a bunch of different size and shape airplanes! Yes, I am joking but why not upgrade the B-2s for another $100 mil/each or so instead of a brand new bomber at $550 mil/each?! Lets pay down the national deb first. After that we will have plenty of money to spend like China does now.

All this to replace the newest model in the bomber fleet, while the B-52 just keeps on going.

Before spending the $Trillions necessary to develop and build the next generation of bombers, the US Air Force needs to take steps in getting the most out of the aircraft we have by upgrading the engines of the B-1B to the PW F119 used by the F-22 Raptor as this would give the US a Mach 2 bomber with supercruise capability; then, the US Air Force needs to decide on whether they want a super-stealthy platform like the B-2 or something in between like the B-1B and have some tactical capability because you want to use the aircraft for more than just dropping bombs.

You’re incredibly naive if you think small business eats 100% of development costs. Yes, they may front those costs to develop a new technology, but you better believe those costs are recouped in per unit sales.

This is just plain wrong. Development phase contracts are ususally structured as cost plus and have the lowest margins because the customer bears the most risk. Production contracts generally carry the highest profitability because the contractor bears the risk.

And if the airframe’s role is not to penetrate, then why the expense of stealth features?
Payload/range and fuel efficiency, yes, but we don’t need low observablity if we have no intentions of entering hostile airspace.
A new B-52 would suffice.
For that, a C-17 could be developed with a massive internal palletized weapons dispensor system(s) that could carry hundreds of the munition of choice.

If that RATTLRS program ever bears favorable fruition, then the penetrating weapon of choice will be Mach 5+ cruise missiles.
As long as we can build the weapon to have >2000km range, the most unstealthy platform would be sufficiently suitable to deploy the weapons well outside any adversary’s defensive perimeter.

Would that it were so in the defense world.

I don’t think Steve is the one who is naive. It’s a bit of a “duh” to state that the development costs are recovered in sales profits, don’t you think?

Come on, you seriously believe these bombers are going to be $550 million each? More like $3 billion each, and that will only be after 30 years of development. With any luck the contractor will see the program cancelled after making a profit on 3 decades of development work and they won’t have to build a single airplane. In fact, they’ll use the revelation of the $3 billion price tag much like Boeing and Northrop did to get the B-2 program cancelled after only 20 airplanes were built. Then they’ll move on to the next development program — because the next program is always better.

Most of the ideas being floated about this new bomber is it is another flying wing B-2ish plane. makes no sense then, why not upgrade the B-2 than waste billions on a plane exactly the same. Of course this comes from the people who scrapped the F-22 for the crappy JSF so see why the USAF is wasting billons for nothing.

I believe that cost limit on the new bomber also excludes the cost of engines (4 )

How can you incur / bear risk with a cost plus contract? Margins mean nothing because fees always disappear rapidly unless they’re fixed. All the poor contractor is left with is time and materiel costs faded (if you believe in Santa Claus) and the enormous gains that come with having the R&D expenses and experience paid for in full. Is R&D costs “won’t double the cost of the plane” reassuring to anyone? Or tell me the size of the bite the contractor is incurring.

They need the range that a large aircraft enables. One bomber equals the payload of 4–8 F-35s, without the backend of multiple tanker sorties.

What are you saying? The next program is always better. That’s what this whole system of smoke and mirrors is based on. Say it with me now, “the next program is always better.” “We will do it right next time.”

There is plenty of risk — to the US taxpayer. Mostly risk that the contractor will do what they say they’ll do and not jack up the price and drag out the design. Really though, even if the system were close enough to worth a damn to recognize that any profit paid on development is simply free money so they’d reduce the fee on development to little or nothing and pay most or all of it on actual produced weapons again it would be a vast improvement over what we have now. Now it is 10% — 15% fee across the board, development and production. Why the hell ever produce a weapon?

Might as well build some some of these new bombers as stealth tankers. The way things are going, any future enemy may built long range fighters just to take out the tankers.

I am in agreement with your point of view. And I think the USAF will eventually come round to it as well, if only because the’ll have to for cost control reasons. For now, they’re still just infected with LO fever.

Stand off weapons will continue to be the door kicker that hits the major radars and IADS nodes. F-22 or maybe even F-35 would be

The reason for stealth and “penetration” is not to go head on against those systems like the wild weasels of old You can get closer to those systems which means you can fly through the gaps opened by your standoff weapons to do the heavy lifting, mass bombings that is just not economically feasible with standoff cruise missiles. Every B-2 mission can hit 40 targets with the explosive equivalent of a cruise missile on each one. Then we have bunker buster weapons that cruise missiles are just not suitable for unless we are going to dust off a conventional BM. In a short war throwing hundreds of cruise missiles at everything is fine but short a few minor punitive actions that is just not the reality of war.

Scratch that

“F-22 or maybe even F-35 would be”


Our economy and deficits ain’t doing a whole lot better…

Standard refrain of the progressive crooks in Washington. They can do it better than the Soviets. They can do it better than the Chinese. Castro just didn’t do it right. La-De-Da.

Lots of good comments. I have to laugh when I read the reference to a “chalk line” regarding a $550 million price per plane. Trouble with chalk is that it washes away in the first rain… Like lines in the sand and other metaphors, these cost estimates are so much hot air. Let’s revisit all the hooha in these columns in 5–10 years, and see what the “B-3″ REALLY costs, not that we are likely to get the truth.

80 — 100 at $550 million each, huh? Let’s see whether we’ve learned from past mistakes yet.

The LRSB could cost no more than 550 million if they use existing technology as much as possible.

Hopefully it will have the same sensors, software and electronics as the F-35, which should not cost more than 20 million per plane or so by 2025 when the F-35 is built in large numbers.

The rotary launcher will probably be the same as the B2, and the landing gear and the engines will probably be off-the-shelf.

The LRSB being about half the size of a B-2, its airframe and RAM will cost much less.

All this to say that 550 million is not necessarily a farfetched goal.

Imo the Dod should have forced a LM-NG team to have the F-35’s avionics + sensor fusion + software + helmet + RAM coating as well as the flying wing technology . Boeing doesn’t have much experience with flying wings and wouldn’t bring much to the project.

Should it have been faster than a flying wing, maybe, but the first strikes would probably be done with JASSMs to degrade enemy defenses.

There WAS a day and age when defense contractors actually did have to fund their own R&D.

The government announced a contract with requirements they wanted in a new weapon system, and the contractors spent their own money developing a working prototype to deliver by the due date.
Not some conceptual unproven paper ideas that take another decade or two to even mature enough into LRIP.

And when all that future imaginary money is spent on an unsuccessful strategic replacement, the money would’ve been more wisely spent finally up-engining the B-52 with 4 new generation fuel efficient high bypass turbofans as has been discussed umpteen times the last 3 decades.

Over the years, what aircraft-launched air-to-ground smart weapons have we developed that wasn’t eventually made deployable from those workhouse B-52s?

The interesting thing will be,
how much more from the other 4 services (Army, USN, USMC, USCG) will have to be cut over that timeframe to fund yet another USAF Xmas wishlist?

Just maybe if future Congresses and POTUS would stop sending the other three combat services off to war in every other continent in the future, then the USAF will have all the money it needs for new toys.
Unfortunately, the US government is its own worst enemy at its means of promoting “peace”.

Judging by history we’ll be buying 3

‘Don’t put all your eggs in one basket.’ Does anyone today believe in redundancy for military readiness? No sooner are $Billions spent for version 2.0 then this is considered obsolescent and version 3.0 is proposed. Instead of a few high-tech hardware the idea of modularity is a good one. But if only a few platforms are built because of cost…what becomes of the upgraded weapon modules? Quantity, as well as quality makes for redundancy.

That’s exactly right, and if the risk is too high for our present day defense contractors then the Air Force can design their own bomber airplane and contract out the building of parts and pieces of that airplane to defense contractors to build. At no point should the Air Force ever give a for profit company a cost reimbursement plus profit to design anything. All of the risk is on the US taxpayer and none is on the contractor. Hell, they might as well flush our money down a toilet.

BS! The B-2 that they would “borrow from” cost one billion dollars each in the 1990s. The F-35 is well over twice as expensive as the B-2 per pound of airplane. You’re just re-telling the lies the defense contractors have already been advised the US Air Force wants to hear.

We’ll get neither, and like it.

A 787 fully equipped would cost about 1/2 that price. So it is not out of line.

As other posters have noted its the development costs where the real expense will profit.

The B-2 hauls 40,000 lbs of bombs internally. The F-22 will carry 2,200 lbs, and the F-35 3,000 lbs internally.

Logistically, if an aircraft isn’t stealth, then its survivability is a function of the range of its weapons. A stealth aircraft can fly into a country and strike targets very deep in country. A non-stealth aircraft would have to park outside and fire a very long ranged weapon into said country, then bug out before interceptors got to it, which in turn requires CAP and tankers to support CAP.

Your argument about cost per pound makes no sense, because a bomber has a much higher fraction of its weight as structural weight, which costs much less than high value systems like the engine or the avionics.

For instance on the B-2 the engines represent roughly 5% of the empty weight, compared to about 15% on a fighter.

Besides the engines and avionics will be mass produced on other planes — well hopefully.

The cost of aircraft continues to be highly dependent upon the cost of the structure, so while it is true that if you use a number from an aircraft similar in weight you will get a better predictor of the cost of some proposed airplane it still does not negate the usefulness of the “per pound” comparison. Besides, even if you just look at the B-1 which was a billion dollars in 1997, that would be $1.4 billion in today’s dollars and 30 years from now it will be easily $2 billion. Figuring the defense contractors will come up with a way to jack that price up another 50% by then is probably pretty damn conservative. I know when I was on F-22 we had a lot of engineers who had been on the B-2 program who were constantly saying, “we are going to make this airplane producible, not like the B-2,” and then the F-22 still came out to be two times as much per pound? Yeah, that’s not screaming “producible” to me, which is in keeping with the rest of my experience because not once did I ever see an idea accepted for making the airplane cheaper. If you could shave a pound off something, then it was an easy sell, but cutting the price by a factor of 10 wouldn’t even get your idea a second glance.

The LRS-B will be about half the size of a B-2, so it will weight about 80000lbs ( and arguably even less because it will have more efficient engines and probably refined aerodynamics, which should help reduce the weight for the same range ). That’s roughly twice the empty weight of the F-22. Given the fact that the first 100 F-22s cost on avergage about 175 million, you double that figure and you get a cost of 350 million for the LRS-B, which is still very far from 550 million.

And the LRS-B will be built in MYP programs to lower the cost.

Its RAM coatings will be a generation ahead of those on the B-2s so they’ll probably be cheaper to produce and to maintain. The LRS-B should not become a super expensive hangar queen like the B-2.

All BS. Not even worth addressing.


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