The House chairman's budget markup, obtained by Defense News, shows a planned decrease of $460 million for the Long Range Strike budget line. That would indicate the funds are coming out of the Long Range Strike-Bomber (LRS-B) program, one of the Air Force's top priorities.

However, a source says that the budget cut was actually requested by the bomber program office as part of a program readjustment that occurred after the president's budget request was already delivered.

What that readjustment may be remains a mystery. Much of the development on the LRS-B has been hidden in the "black" budget. A service spokesman declined to comment on markups, but said the program remains on track for a summer 2015 contract award.

In the pPresident's budget request submitted to Congress in February, the Air Force request $1.2 billion in research and development funding. That made it the largest single system under the Air Force's $17.9 billion research, development, test and evaluation (RDT&E) funding request.

In the president's budget, RDT&E funding for the bomber grows to $2.2 billion in fiscal 2017, $2.8 billion in 2018, $3.6 billion in 2019 and $3.7 billion in 2020.

The full committee will vote on its markup Wednesday.

The LRS-B program is targeting a production line of 80-100 planes, with an estimated cost of $550 million in 2010 dollars each — a figure critics of the program warn that is not realistic.

It will eventually replace the fleet of B-52 and B-1 bomber fleets. Although technical specifications are largely unknown, it is expected the design will be stealthy, with optionally manned capability.

Just who will win the bomber contract will go to remains up in the air. Northrop Grumman is facing off with the team of Lockheed Martin and Boeing for the right to produce the bomber, and the analyst community has vacillated on which side has the upper hand.

While neither side has disclosed much about its proposed design, Northrop has not been shy about making a public relations play. In addition to running a television tv ad semi-regularly in the D.C. area, the company recently purchased a number of bus ads on and around the Hill.

In addition to the LRS-B, the Air Force's next-generation air dominance program – popularly known as the "sixth-generation" fighter follow-on to the F-22 – took a $4.9 million R&D program reduction. That program is in the very early stages, with the Air Force purposefully taking a slow look at what technologies need to be developed in order to have a system ready by 2030.

Other R&D budget cuts include:

  • The Air Force's weather system follow-on, was docked $20 million for "unjustified increase and analysis of alternatives."
  • The KC-46 tanker program took a $200 million R&D cut due to "program decrease."
  • The Wideband Global Satcom system lost $4 million in R&D that was "excess to need."

John T. Bennett in Washington contributed to this report

Email: amehta@defensenews.com

Twitter: @AaronMehta