WASHINGTON — The Air Force has named the seven major contractors who will join Northrop Grumman in building the next-generation B-21 bomber, including the new plane's engine-maker Pratt & Whitney.
Almost five months after the Air Force awarded Northrop Grumman a hotly contested contract to build the secretive long range strike bomber, now called the B-21, Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James gave reporters a sneak peek at the list of major subcontractors on the program during a March 7 briefing at the Pentagon.
As many expected, F-35 engine-maker Pratt & Whitney will build the B-21 engine at its facility in East Hartford, Connecticut, James announced. As Defense News reported in November, the decision not to go with GE Aviation for the B-21 engine reflects a departure from history, as GE builds the F118 that powers Nothrop’s B-2 stealth bomber.
The other six industry partners named March 7 will work on “airframe or mission systems” for the new plane, James said. These contractors are: BAE Systems, working out of Nashua, New Hampshire; GKN Aerospace in St. Louis, Missouri; Janicki Industries in Sedro-Woolley, Washington; Orbital ATK in Clearfield, Utah and Dayton, Ohio; Rockwell Collins in Cedar Rapids, Iowa; and Spirit AeroSystems in Wichita, Kansas.
James declined to give additional details about which B-21 components each contractor will build.
The Air Force’s decision to release the names of the seven major B-21 contractors is part of an effort to be more transparent and build support for the costly program, James said. The B-21 faces a battle for funding against other Air Force and Pentagon priorities, particularly on Capitol Hill. Earlier this month, the powerful chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, John McCain, threatened to block the program.
“The B-2 remained in the shadows for too long, it remained classified — too many details remained classified too long,” James said. “In the case of the B-21, we are leaning forward and we are trying to be more transparent and we are going to continue to do so.”