According to Pentagon officials, the LSR-B will incorporate open architecture that will allow the platform to be modified as technology evolves. It will also be designed to carry both conventional and nuclear payloads, and will be able to launch from the continental United States to conduct airstrikes anywhere on the planet.
Northrop Grumman had been competing against a joint Boeing-Lockheed Martin team for the contract. According to William LaPlante, assistant secretary of the Air Force for acquisition, independent cost experts estimate that the project will cost $22.4 million for the initial development phase, and $511 million per aircraft for 100 aircraft.
Those cost estimates are based on 2010 dollars, however, and not calculated based on fiscal year 2016.
While a number of experts had predicted a win for Boeing-Lockheed, others criticized such an arrangement. With Lockheed responsible for the F-35 fighter and Boeing behind the KC-46 tanker, allowing the two to develop the Long Range Strike-Bomber would grant too much control over the US Air Force to those companies.
The contract will come in two parts. The first will be for development, while the second will cover the production of the first 21 bombers. Given that a number of scale models have already been built for testing, development could proceed quicker than other military projects.
The Air Force hopes to have the first models operational by the mid-2020s.
Expressing fears that its current fleet was vulnerable to Chinese and Russian-made air defenses, the Pentagon has been scrambling to replace the aging B-1 and B-52 bombers. Those are set to retire in the mid-2040s.
"The US Air Force wants up to 100 new bombers armed with all the latest weaponry and radar-evading stealth technology, able to fly long distances, penetrate even the heaviest defenses and destroy scores of targets in a single bombing run," military analyst David Axe wrote for Reuters last week.
But coming on the heels of the exorbitantly expensive F-35 program, many have questioned the need for another costly endeavor. Costing nearly $400 billion, the Joint Strike fighter is still plagued with problems, despite being one of the most expensive military projects every undertaken.
"[The F-35 is] arguably too slow, too sluggish and too lightly armed to defeat the latest Russian and Chinese-made fighters," Axe wrote last month.
"The F-35 is also prone to breakdowns, engine fires and software failures. It’s years late and – at a total cost of more than $400 billion – way, way over budget."
The F-35 was developed by Lockheed Martin.
To allay fears about ballooning costs, the Pentagon pledged to be more transparent about development of the new bomber, although it previously opted to keep that information disclosed.
"We intend to provide that information, we’re not trying to hide it, it’s just that I would rather wait," LaPlante told reporters last month, "until after we get the source selection done."
Some experts predict the new program could end up costing taxpayers as much as $80 billion.