NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. – The U.S. Air Force intends to conduct a “deep dive” on the B-2 Spirit to determine how that bomber program’s strengths and weaknesses could guide the development of the B-21 Raider, according to a service official.
The deep dive is designed to prevent the B-21 from experiencing the kind of cost and schedule overruns that plagued the B-2, said Gen. Robin Rand, the head of Air Force Global Strike Command. Northrop Grumman [NOC], which built the B-2 and is the B-21’s prime contractor, is expected to participate in the review.
“We’re already putting together a team” to handle the deep dive, Rand said Sept. 19 during a media roundtable at the Air Force Association’s annual Air, Space & Cyber Conference. “We have a lot of good lessons that we can learn collectively from the B-2 program.”
In October 2015, the Air Force awarded a contract to Northrop Grumman to develop and begin building the B-21. At the time, the B-21’s average procurement unit cost was estimated at $511 million per aircraft in 2010 dollars, or a about third of the B-2’s cost.
Rand told reporters he is “very, very pleased” with how the B-21 program began and is cautiously optimistic it will become a model for other acquisition efforts. “But that enthusiasm has to be tempered by, ‘We have a lot of work to do, and we cannot take our foot off the pedal,’” he added.
Last year, the Government Accountability Office denied a protest by the B-21’s losing bidder, Boeing [BA], in a decision that Rand believes validated the Air Force’s approach. In March, the Air Force indicated that the B-21 had completed its preliminary design review.
The Air Force plans to buy at least 100 B-21s and begin fielding them in the mid-2020s. Like the B-2, which achieved its initial operational capability in 1997, the new airplane will be stealthy and is intended to carry both conventional and nuclear weapons.