OPINION | Northrop Grumman's LRS-B : Price Will Decide The Final Outcome

OPINION | Northrop Grumman's LRS-B : Price Will Decide The Final Outcome

By IndraStra Editorial Team

OPINION | Northrop Grumman's LRS-B : Price Will Decide The Final Outcome

The Long Range Strike Bomber (LRS-B) is a proposed long-range strategic bomber for the United States Air Force intended to be a heavy-payload stealth aircraft capable of carrying thermonuclear weapons. Initial capability is expected in the mid-2020s. A request for proposal to develop the aircraft was issued on 9 July 2014, with a contract awarded in October of 2015.The Air Force plans to purchase 80–100 LRS-B aircraft at a cost of $550 million each in 2010 prices or $606 million each in 2016 fiscal costs. On 27 October 2015, the Pentagon announced that Northrop Grumman won the development contract, beating a combined Boeing and Lockheed Martin team.

Under the terms of the contract award, Northrop will now enter into engineering and manufacturing development (EMD) phase for an undeclared number test aircraft as well as production options for the first five lots of 21 aircraft. Other details of the future platform were not shared like subcontractors for other components of the aircraft. On the announcement of the Northrop Grumman award, aircraft engine maker Pratt & Whitney offered public congratulations to the company but stated it would make no additional comments.

Why LRS-B Program is Needed?


The USAF's Global Strike Command has indicated that one requirement upon the bomber is to carry a weapon of similar effect to the existing Massive Ordnance Penetrator. In addition to the strategic bombingtactical bombing, and prompt global strike roles typical for a long-range bomber, the aircraft is to be part of a family of systems to be responsible for ground surveillance and electronic attack. The Obama Administration in its 2012 budget request asked for $197 million and a total of $3.7 billion over five years to develop the bomber, which is to include modular payload options for intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance (ISR), electronic attack (EA), and communications. The bomber is to be nuclear capable, but shall not be certified for the role until older bombers are set to retire.

Influences of Price Factors:

“The correct 10-year cost entry for both … reports is $41.7 billion as the program costs have remained stable,” Air Force spokesperson Ed Gulick said in a statement when asked about LRS-B program in August 2015.

Last year, Air Force officials told Congress that the cost for the 10-year research and development phase for the Long-Range Strike Bomber would be $33.1 billion between fiscal years 2015 through 2025. But this year the price skyrocketed. The Air Force said the cost for fiscal 2016 to 2026 would be $58.4 billion, a 76 percent increase. The service explained the discrepancy, first reported by Bloomberg, by saying both figures were wrong and that the actual cost is really 24 percent more.

With a target price of $550 million per aircraft, Defense News quoted a source with knowledge of the program predicting that the LRS-B may be smaller than the B-2, perhaps half the size, powered by two engines in the Pratt & Whitney F135 power class.

Now, according to an expert comment published at BreakingDefense.com on September 17,2015, the LRS-B will not be inexpensive by any taxpayer’s standards, the Air Force appears to be wisely leveraging “off-the-shelf” components designed for other aircraft and “open” architectures and mission systems that can be easily upgraded. These approaches should help the winning and retaining the vendors and their deliveries, but through an overall perspective - to sustain the aircraft we must have at the lowest possible cost in current scenarios, as cost are bound to be escalated.

The cost of the APUC per unit plus estimated research and development costs could mean the program could tally up at $80 billion. Independent think-tank cost estimates place the total as high as $100 billion — or roughly the cost of the Navy’s 12 submarine Ohio-class nuclear ballistic missile replacement program.

With the disclosure of LRS-B existence as a program, as well as the target cost per plane for the 80 to 100 aircraft that will be bought, but very few other details have been released so it’s very difficult to tell just how much complex or advanced it will be. However, the overall stability in the LRS-B program will be based up on the rate of production, and the total procurement quantity which will keep acquisition costs down and sustain public support for the program in coming years. 

Forecast

As per the current scenario, we believe 80-100 bombers at the time when Air Forces around the globe are engaging its forces through precision guided drone combat missions is quite overestimated by all means. These numbers can fulfill the role of force projection over a conflict or in a event of war. But, mere force projection will not suffice. Now considering the other angle behind this deal these projected numbers may be justifiable in one or other way, in terms of keeping the cost of program within sustainable range or else the whole concept of keeping a dominance through Global Strike Command will not see the light. So, Ultimately the price will decide the final outcome.


AIDN: 001-10-2015-0361
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