U.S. Air Force sticks to $550 mln target for new bomber

WASHINGTON, March 11 Tue Mar 11, 2014 3:25pm EDT

WASHINGTON, March 11 (Reuters) - The U.S. Air Force is "holding tight" to a target of $550 million for each new long-range bomber in a fleet of up to 100 aircraft, excluding research and development costs, a top Air Force official said Tuesday.

"We're still using that as a pretty firm chalk line for those companies that are bidding on it, and in determining which requirements make it, and which ones don't," Air Force Undersecretary Eric Fanning told reporters.

He said the cost per aircraft would be higher if research and development costs and inflation were added in, and acknowledged that there were "a number of people" who thought the $550 million target price tag was too low to develop the kind of requirements needed for a next-generation bomber.

Boeing Co and Lockheed Martin Corp have teamed up to compete against Northrop Grumman Corp to develop a successor to Northrop's B-2 bomber in one of the biggest new aircrat development programs being launched by the U.S. military at a time when defense budgets are being cut.

The Air Force has said it plans to buy 80 to 100 new bombers. It expects to formally kick off a competition later this year that will map out specific quantities and requirements.

The project is one of the Air Force's top priorities, along with the Lockheed F-35 fighter jet and the KC-46A refueling plane being built by Boeing.

Fanning said the cost target for the bomber was helping to ensure that the Air Force and the companies involved remained disciplined about the sort of capabilities and equipment being proposed for the new aircraft.

He said former Deputy Defense Secretary Ashton Carter had been passionate about limiting the cost of the new program, and the Air Force was still "hewing pretty hard to that number."

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