Company official sees B-2 work lasting and an advantage in
future huge Air Force contracts.
Northrop Grumman expects a steady flow of income for many
years from maintaining and improving the B-2 bomber and is
using that experience to compete for the Air Force's next
generation of long-range strike programs, a Northrop
official said Tuesday.
Northrop receives more than $500
million a year for periodic maintenance and a series of
upgrades for the 21 B-2s, which the Air Force plans to keep
in service for another 50 years, said David Mazur, a vice
president in the corporation's El Segundo-based Integrated
Systems sector. The B-2 is an ocean-spanning, stealthy
Northrop also is developing concepts for a program to
produce a new extended-reach weapon system the Air Force
hopes to deploy by 2020, and for an even more futuristic
strike platform that could be combat ready 15 years later,
Mazur told reporters.
Those programs could total billions of dollars.
The detailed requirements for the two new weapons have
not been revealed, Mazur said.
But the preliminary indications are that the first new
strike system will be a bomber, he said.
Although there have been suggestions that the new bomber
could be unmanned, Mazur said a requirement that it be able
to deliver nuclear weapons shows that it would be "manable,"
meaning that it could fly either with a crew or as a drone.
Mazur did not consider the new strike system a
replacement for the B-2s because the Air Force has indicated
it wants an aircraft that could fly 2,500 to 3,000 miles
with a bomb load of about 25,000 pounds without refueling,
far below the B-2's ability to fly 6,000 miles carrying
40,000 pounds of weapons.
He also predicted the new aircraft would fly at subsonic
speeds, like the B-2, because it would be difficult to
develop engines capable of supersonic flight at such
distances by 2020.
Ideas for the later strike weapon include a hypersonic
space plane that could reach the most distant targets in a
Both of the future programs are sure to draw bids from
the other major U.S. military aircraft makers, Boeing and
Regardless of the outcome of that competition, Northrop
expects many years of work to keep the B-2 an effective and
Among the ongoing or planned programs are a modification
of the B-2's radar-thwarting skin covering, which will make
it easier to do routine maintenance; installation of systems
that improve long-range communications; and a new radar with
much better capabilities.
Planned improvements also include new bomb bay systems
that would enable the bomber to carry a wider variety of
weapons, ranging from a 250-pound precision attack bomb to
the "massive ordnance penetrator," a 30,000-pound monster
intended to destroy deeply buried, hardened bunkers.
Mazur said Northrop and the Air Force would work to
divide those planned improvements into increments that can
be funded without disrupting annual budgets.