Boeing [BA] and Lockheed Martin [LMT] said Friday they’ll team to pursue the Air Force’s next-generation Long Range Strike Bomber (LRSB) program with Boeing acting as the prime contractor and Lockheed Martin as the primary teammate.

The Air Force has made it clear that the LRSB program is one of their top priorities over the next decade, despite declining defense budgets. Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Welsh said last month at the Air Force Association (AFA) conference that the LRSB program ranked with the F-35, KC-46 next-generation aerial refueling tanker, Joint STARS and a new T-X trainer as Air Force priorities (Defense Daily, Sept. 19).

Boeing’s B-52 bomber. Boeing and Lockheed Martin are teaming for the Air Force’s next-gen Long Range Strike Bomber. Photo: Air Force.

Air Force spokesman Ed Gulick said Friday the service still plans on procuring between 80 and 100 new bombers as part of the LRSB program. Whether the Air Force actually buys that many is yet to be seen as the service originally envisioned a fleet of 132 B-2s in the 1980s, but ended up with only 20 as the program was beset with cost and scheduling problems (Defense Daily; Feb. 10, 2012).

Richard Aboulafia, vice president of analysis at Teal Group, told Defense Daily Friday the teaming arrangement makes sense as Boeing has prime contractor bomber experience and Lockheed Martin has stealth experience. Boeing developed the B-52 and built the B-1, though it was originally created by Rockwell. Lockheed Martin developed the F-22, which Boeing also partnered on.

Aboulafia added that the two companies’ biggest problem is that Northrop Grumman [NOC] developed, designed and manufactured the most recent bomber–the B-2. Boeing also contributed to the B-2, building the outboard portion of the wing, the aft center fuselage section, landing gears, fuel system and weapons delivery system. Northrop Grumman declined to comment on whether they’d pursue the LRSB program.

“(The arrangement) makes sense,” Aboulafia said. “The last time they did this a few years ago (for Next Generation Bomber), it wasn’t really clear what the working arrangements would be and that’s probably why it failed. They decided to come back and do it again, but under different circumstances. We have a more clear prime and subcontractor relationship.”

Boeing spokesman Todd Blecher said the teaming arrangement announced Friday will be more collaborative and cooperative than a traditional prime-subcontractor arrangement, but he declined to get into specifics. Emails to possible LRSB bidder Raytheon [RTN] were not returned by press time.

The House passed a fiscal year 2014 defense appropriations bill that included around $379 million for further LRSB development, though that much won’t be provided due to the continuing resolution (CR) recently passed to keep the federal government open until mid-January. The CR funds the government at the FY ’13 spending levels until a new budget is passed.

Byron Callan of Capital Alpha Partners LLC said Friday in an investor’s note that DoD has been aiming for a $550 million per bomber unit cost. Other than funding details, the Air Force has classified much of the LRSB program.