Time's Running Out for the U.S. Air Force's $55 Billion Stealth Bomber

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First introduced in 1955, the Boeing B-52 Stratofortress forms the backbone of America's airborne nuclear deterrent. Out of 160 strategic bombers operated by the U.S. military, nearly half (78) are B-52s. But after six decades in service in the U.S. Air Force, the ancient B-52 is showing its age -- and it's time to build a new strategic bomber. The question is "when." And also "if."

The Wall Street Journal reported Thursday that the Air Force has pushed the anticipated date of the LRS-B contract award into summer 2015, with the contract winner expected to begin delivering stealth bombers sometime next decade. Thus, a tight schedule has just gotten even tighter, with contractors losing three months between contract award and initial delivery in which to complete development and manufacture of the stealth bomber. According to AF Times, production should wrap up sometime around 2040.

And that's not the only problem LRS-B faces. AF Times says the Air Force wants to buy about 100 bombers for a total cost of $55 billion -- $550 million per plane.

Problem is, that's not likely to happen.

Of course, in the best-case scenario (for the Air Force and for investors), even the tippety-top of our cost estimates for LRS-B -- $55 billion for manufacturing, plus $5 billion inflation, plus $25 billion development, or $85 billion total -- still results in a per-plane cost of less than $1 billion per LRS-B when spread across 100 stealth bombers. That's a lot of money, but it's still less than half the price of the plane's B-2 predecessor.

So the moral of this story? If the Air Force really wants its new stealth bomber, it must buy it in bulk. The price will be high, but unless we want to still be flying B-52s 60 more years from now, it's a price we'll have to pay.


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Time's Running Out for the U.S. Air Force's $55 Billion Stealth Bomber

 

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