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Northrop wins $7 billion Air Force contract for more B-2 sustainment, upgrades


A US. Air Force B-2 Spirt assigned to the 509th Bomb Wing, Whiteman Air Force Base receives fuel from a U.S. Air Force KC-135 assigned to the 185th Air Refueling Wing, Iowa Air National Guard in the sky over northwest Missouri on August 29, 2018. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Senior Master Sgt. Vincent De Groot)

WASHINGTON — The Air Force awarded Northrop Grumman a contract worth up to $7 billion to continue sustainment and enhance the capabilities of the service’s B-2 Spirit stealth bomber fleet, the Pentagon announced Thursday evening.

The contract’s period of performance is set to run through 2029, according to the Pentagon notice. The Air Force is notionally planning to retire the dual-capable B-2 in the early 2030s — replacing it with the B-21 Raider, also a Northrop Grumman product — meaning this award could be one of the last for the iconic stealth bomber. 

“In partnership with the Air Force, Northrop Grumman is ensuring the B-2 Spirit fleet remains viable and mission-ready. The $7 billion Flexible Acquisition Sustainment Team III contract award is a reflection of our commitment to strengthening the B-2’s sustainment as we continue to modernize the aircraft to meet the needs of the U.S. Air Force,” Jerry McBrearty, Northrop Grumman director and acting B-2 program manager, said in a statement. 

According to the award announcement, the contracts entails “B-2 enhancements, sustainment, logistics elements including sustaining engineering, software maintenance, and support equipment.” Depot maintenance and other contractor work is also included in the award.  

With a price tag of over $2 billion per copy, the Spirit is the most expensive military plane ever built. Following the end of the Cold War and the program’s exorbitant cost, the Air Force only ended up fielding 21 of the flying wings — 20 remain in service today, following the crash of one bomber in 2008 at Andersen Air Force Base. The plane was scrapped, but the crew safely ejected. 

Against a potential $7 billion award, that means the contract issued Thursday could work out to roughly $350 million in sustainment and modernization per plane over the given time period. 

Officials expect to buy at least 100 B-21s, which will replace both the B-2 and Boeing B-1 Lancer. The Air Force will then drop to a two-bomber fleet once both aircraft are fully divested, as Boeing’s B-52 Stratofortress is expected to serve well into the middle of the century with new engines and other upgrades.

Last fall, the B-21 formally entered production. 

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