On Thursday, Under Secretary of the Air Force Matthew Donovan claimed that Congress' continuing resolution (CR), the ad hoc extensions to the fiscal year (FY) 2017 budget necessary to allow debate over the 2018 budget to continue, may prove disastrous to the program. Congress has been considering a year-long CR, which would deny USAF the additional funding they requested for the B-21.
"A long-term CR will limit execution of the engineering, manufacturing and development phase, the EMD phase, of the B-21," Donovan, a 31-year USAF veteran, said at an Air Force Association event on Thursday.
"We would be limited to the FY17 funding level, which is far below the FY18 budget request. This will have the effect of postponing delivery of the critical strategic capability to the joint warfighter."
The Air Force asked for $1.3 billion to develop the B-21 in 2017, upping that to $2 billion in 2018. If Congress ends up passing a year-long CR, that will deny the program $700 million. Because most details about the program remain classified, Donovan did not elaborate on what adverse effects the reduced funding would have exactly.
"If we're not able to ramp up on our schedule for the acquisition program baseline, of course it's going to have an impact on the other end. You can't make up that time," he said, implying that the denied funding may add development time to the aircraft, which is meant to enter service in 2025.
Donovan added that the B-21 program is periodically reviewed to see if more information can be divulged to the public. At USAF's behest, the Senate Armed Services Committee classified many details about the program, including the program's overall cost.
However, the initial proposal for a new strategic bomber, released by the USAF in 2010, estimated the cost at $550 million per unit. The USAF's initial order was for 100 units, which would make the contract worth $55 billion.
A contract that juicy naturally attracted a bidding war among big defense contractors, which was eventually won by Northrop Grumman.
The B-21 is meant to be a cutting-edge strategic bomber to complement the aging B-1B Lancer and B-52 Stratofortress strategic bombers. The famous B-52, which entered service in 1955 and is the oldest plane still in service in the USAF, is in particular beginning to show its age. The B-21 is meant to replace both the Lancer and Stratofortress by 2045.
When asked about future Air Force budgets, Donovan assured the audience that robust support for the B-21 program would continue. "I'm not going to tell you what the number is, but you can expect that it is going to increase as we build up this program," he said.