Replacement Coming? Lockheed and Boeing are teaming on the next-generation bomber. They will take on Northrop Grumman, whose experience on the B-2 bomber may give it a leg up. (US Air Force)
WASHINGTON — Lockheed Martin and Boeing, the two largest defense companies in the world, are teaming up on the next-generation bomber.
The companies announced a teaming effort for the Air Force’s Long Range Strike Bomber program on Oct. 25. Boeing will be the prime contractor, while Lockheed will act as primary teammate.
“Boeing and Lockheed Martin are bringing together the best of the two enterprises, and the rest of industry, in support of the Long-Range Strike Bomber program, and we are honored to support our US Air Force customer and this important national priority,” Dennis Muilenburg, president and chief executive officer of Boeing Defense, Space & Security, said in a joint statement. “Stable planning, along with efficient and affordable development and production approaches, enables our team to reduce development risk by leveraging mature technologies and integrating existing systems.”
Orlando Carvalho, executive vice president of Lockheed Martin Aeronautics, said, “We’re confident that our team will meet the well-defined system requirements and deliver a world-class next-generation Long Range Strike Bomber to the US Air Force within the budget and timeframe required.”
Gen. Mark Welsh, Air Force chief of staff, has consistently said his top three priorities are the KC-46 tanker replacement, the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter and the bomber program. Boeing produces the KC-46, while Lockheed is the prime on the F-35. A bomber win would give the two companies dominance over the next three decades of Air Force systems.
“The LRS-B program is a top modernization priority for the Air Force and critical to our national security,” Air Force spokesman Ed Gulick said. “The Air Force looks forward to working with all participating industry partners on this very important program.”
This is the second time the two companies have come together on the next-generation bomber. The duo had an early partnership in 2008, but that deal lapsed around 2010 when the requirements for the program shifted.
“It’s not like we hit pause and now we hit play on the same arrangement,” said Todd Blecher, Boeing’s director of external communications. “The program has evolved since back then. We came together to take another look at it and have structured this partnership to specifically address the Air Force’s requirements. The way it will work is different than it would have worked back then.
Both Blecher and Lockheed spokeswoman Jen Allen said talks between the two companies began this year.
“I’m not surprised the agreement is back,” said Richard Aboulafia, an analyst with the Virginia-based Teal Group. “They can really use each other, especially since Northrop [Grumman] has taken a very aggressive approach and has the most recent bomber design and production experience. It’s a natural fit and a common enemy.”
The team would combine Boeing’s bomber experience, including maintenance and upkeep, with Lockheed’s stealth experience. Even so, Northrop may still be in the lead position, given its experience with the stealthy B-2 Spirit and an early, aggressive campaign that included a three-story tall poster at this year’s Air Force Association conference in National Harbor, Md.
“Northrop probably has the strongest shot right now,” Aboulafia said. “This is the only way that the two companies can pull ahead, and together they would be extremely strong.”
Air Force officials have indicated that the bomber program will be built primarily off of existing technologies, although what that might mean is unclear. Only general details of the heavily classified program have emerged. It will likely be optionally manned and will certainly have stealth capabilities, potentially drawn from the F-22 Raptor and F-35.
The bombers are expected to enter service in the mid-2020s and cost about $550 million each, with a potential buy of up to 100. The program has been largely unaffected by sequestration because the funding streams are relatively small in the coming years, according to Air Force officials.