ORLANDO, Fla.–The Air Force since the spring of 2014 has been briefing appropriate congressional members and staffers on its classified Long Range Strike Bomber (LRSB) acquisition strategy and it will continue explaining itself as it moves forward, Air Force Secretary Deborah James said Friday.

James’ remarks come in response to Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC) Chairman John McCain (R-Ariz.) threatening to not authorize the program over its use of cost-plus contracting, in which the government would be liable for cost overruns. James told reporters that the LRSB contract structure was a “hybrid approach” featuring a cost-plus incentive for the engineering and manufacturing development (EMD) portion before transitioning into a fixed price type of contract for the first two production lots. 

Artist's rendering of the Air Force's Long Range Strike Bomber, designated B-21. Photo: Air Force.
Artist’s rendering of the Air Force’s Long Range Strike Bomber, designated B-21. Photo: Air Force.

“The key people in Congress, particularly the professional staff members…they certainly have known it,” James said here at the Air Force Association’s (AFA) winter Air Warfare Symposium.

Now that the bid protest period has passed and Boeing [BA] said it won’t sue the Air Force over the LRSB award to Northrop Grumman [NOC], James expects to continue the dialogue and inform both Congress and the public of additional details in the program, though she warned that the program would remain highly classified and thus few details about key technologies would be unveiled. Boeing and Lockheed Martin [LMT] teamed for a LRSB offer.

James said the Air Force had a classified SASC briefing scheduled for Tuesday and that she would host a State of the Air Force briefing at the Pentagon on March 7 to release further details. James and Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Welsh will appear in front of the full SASC panel for the service’s posture hearing on Thursday where LRSB will certainly come up.

“I hope with additional information, we can get our point across more effectively,” James said.

McCain blistered the Air Force on Thursday over its cost-plus contract, the program’s classification level and the fact the service hasn’t announced subcontractors for the program(Defense Daily, February 25). The Navy, for its part, procures many critical platforms, like nuclear submarines, as unclassified programs. McCain has been thorn in the Air Force’s side in recent years as he’s also been a constant critic of its use of the Russian-developed RD-180 rocket engine in launch. 

James said “one size doesn’t fit all” when it comes to contract vehicles. She said the Air Force may pick a certain contract vehicle depending on technical risk, possible commercial alternatives, potential Foreign Military Sales (FMS) down the road, among others. All of these were taken into account when selecting the LRSB contract structure, she said.

“We do feel this was the right approach given the totality of factors,” James said.

Earlier in the day during her keynote speech, James revealed an artist’s rendering of the LRSB and its official designation as B-21.