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Air Force Secretary: B-21 Bomber Completes Another Review, Remains on Schedule

Artists concept of the B-21 Long Range Strike Bomber (Image: Northrop Grumman Corp.)
Artists concept of the B-21 Long Range Strike Bomber (Image: Northrop Grumman Corp.)

SIMI VALLEY, California -- The B-21 Long Range Strike Bomber program recently completed a developmental review and remains on schedule, the top civilian of the Air Force said at the Reagan National Defense Forum.

"Our most recent review was last week, and the B-21 is on schedule and performance," Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson said during the forum in Simi Valley on Saturday.

While Wilson noted the development process is in its early stages, "We are pleased with how that program is going forward," she said.

Officials have said the Northrop Grumman-made B-21 is expected to reach its critical design review milestone in December. It was not immediately clear whether the review Wilson spoke of is the same one.

"It's a good example of how to run a major acquisition program well and why delegation of authority back to the services … works to get high quality and to do so quickly," Wilson told reporters after her panel discussion.

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In recent budgets, the Air Force has received more acquisition authority from Congress to push decisions down to program officers so they can spend more time managing their designated projects "than managing the Pentagon," Wilson has said.

Wilson and Vice Chief of Staff Gen. Stephen "Seve" Wilson touted the service's progress in improving its recent procurement approach, pointing to the additional acquisition authorities and rapid prototyping endeavors as examples of enhancing how it buys or tests new equipment or weapons.

It's about the "speed of relevance," the vice chief said Saturday of the B-21. "We empowered people with the right authorities and responsibility, and they produce great capability and that's why they're successful."

Last month, the service announced it had selected Edwards Air Force Base, California, and Tinker Air Force Base, Oklahoma, to be the lead facilities for test and evaluation and maintenance and sustainment, respectively, for the program.

The announcement was a new sliver of public information in the longstanding, highly classified program to create the Air Force's next long-range stealth bomber, known as the Raider.

Northrop's Melbourne, Florida, facility is the site of the Raider design and development headquarters.

Currently, the B-21 is in its engineering and manufacturing development phase. The bomber, the Pentagon's latest multibillion-dollar program, passed its preliminary design review last year.

The Air Force awarded Northrop the contract, initially worth $21.4 billion, in 2015.

Total program costs are expected to exceed $55 billion.

The first B-21 is expected to reach initial operating capability in the mid-2020s.

-- Oriana Pawlyk can be reached at oriana.pawlyk@military.com. Follow her on Twitter at @Oriana0214.

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