WASHINGTON – The US Air Force in its fiscal 2017 budget submission updated the cost estimate for the Long Range Strike-Bomber, reflecting a reduction in funds for the development program over the next four years compared with the service’s previous plan.
In last year’s budget request, the Air Force included about $12.6 billion in its research, development, technology and evaluation account for the next-generation bomber from FY17 through FY20, according to official budget documents. But for the same time period, the service’s FY17 funding profile for LRS-B is about $9.1 billion – a significant drop of about $3.5 billion.
Budget observers took to Twitter Tuesday after the initial budget rollout to lambaste the Air Force for cutting resources for the bomber. However, the reduction simply reflects the service’s updated cost estimate for the program since awarding a contract to Northrop Grumman Oct. 27, Air Force deputy for budget Carolyn Gleason told reporters Tuesday at the Pentagon.
The Air Force was able to develop a more accurate cost estimate for the program over the next four years once the winning contractor was selected, Gleason said. The program content for LRS-B has not changed over the last year, she stressed.
“All that’s happened is we’ve had a new service cost estimate because we had a competition, we’ve downselected, we have a winner — we know that winner’s business strategy, their technology strategy,” Gleason said. “So that’s purely an update to a cost estimate that caused that delta — the program content is the same.”
But although the Air Force has apparently built its LRS-B funding profile around Northrop’s cost estimate for program development, there is still a chance Northrop will not actually build the bomber. Boeing, which along with partner Lockheed Martin submitted the losing bid in the LRS-B competition, filed a protest in November with the Government Accountability Office.
The GAO is expected to announce its final decision on the protest next week.