U.S. Air Force chief cites concern about leak of bomber data

WASHINGTON, Dec 1 (Reuters) - The top U.S. Air Force general on Tuesday confirmed that the service had raised concerns about the release of sensitive data about a next-generation bomber that was included in a report published by Forbes magazine last month.

“We did have a concern about data that should not have been released,” Air Force Chief of Staff General Mark Welsh told industry executives and foreign military officials at an event hosted by the Atlantic Council think tank.

“I think it’s our duty to identify the fact that that should not have been made available and try to keep the process as pure as we can. That’s why the Air Force highlighted that as an issue,” Welsh said.

Reuters reported last week that the Air Force was looking into how classified data about the bomber competition had found its way into the Forbes report.

The report was released the same day that Boeing Co and Lockheed Martin Corp filed a formal protest against the Air Force’s contract with Northrop Grumman Corp to develop the new long-range strike bomber, a deal worth up to $80 billion.

Loren Thompson, chief operating officer of the Lexington Institute think tank, published a detailed column on the Forbes website the day the protest was filed, saying the estimate that it would cost $21.4 billion to develop the plane was roughly twice what the competing industry teams had bid.

Welsh said he did not know if a formal investigation into the leak had been launched into the incident.

GAO is expected to rule about the protest by Feb. 16.

Boeing and Northrop have declined to comment on the issue. Loren Thompson, a longtime defense consultant who wrote the Forbes column, said he knew the Air Force had concerns about the piece, but said he was not aware of any specific investigation. (Reporting by Andrea Shalal; Editing by David Gregorio)