The US Air Force wants to acquire at least 145 B-21 Raiders from Northrop Grumman, estimated to cost in excess of $90 billion.
President Joe Biden's nominee to be the next secretary of the air force, Frank Kendall, says that "is a reasonable number, at this point."
Kendall's comments were made during a confirmation hearing for his new post at the Senate Armed Services Committee on 25th May.
In 2010 dollars, USAF said at contract award that it expected the jets to come in at $511 million each. Adjusted to inflation, this would come in at $626 million and in excess of $90 billion for 145 units. However, the contract-award number was calculated against a buy of 100 airplanes – a larger volume of production would naturally drive unit costs lower.
“I think that is a reasonable number, at this point,” Kendall said in regards to the 145 B-21 figure. "We’re a long way from achieving that, and requirements may change over time... [but] as a basis to manage the programme I think that's reasonable right now."
The B-21 nuclear-armed strategic bomber is intended to replace its predecessor, the B-2 Spirit, as well as the aging fleet of B-1Bs.
Northrop Grumman is currently developing two B-21 prototypes at USAF's Plant 42 in Palmdale, California. The first of these is scheduled to have its first flight in 2022.
The nominee appears likely to be confirmed, along with two other Biden administration picks. Several senators praised their selections, including committee chairman Jack Reed.
“Previously, you [each have] demonstrated the thoughtfulness, and the integrity, and the commitment that is essential to being a part of the Department of Defense,” Reed said. “I look forward to your confirmations.”
The B-21 bomber seems to be safely on budget and on schedule, Aerospace Manufacturing reported in April. Congressman Adam Smith, chair of the House Armed Services Committee, said a briefing on the stealth bomber programme was “one of the most positive, encouraging things that I’ve had happen to me in the last couple of weeks.”
Smith explained the US Air Force appears to have “learned the lessons” of the over-budget F-35 programme. By contrast, the B-21, being manufactured by Northrop Grumman, is “on time, on budget, and they’re making it work in a very intelligent way.”