By Lt. Col. Jeff Schreiner:
The Air Force very quietly released a Request for Proposal (RFP) this summer for the new Long Range Strike Bomber (LRS-B). With a purported fly away cost of $550 million per aircraft — but with estimates up to $810 million — the LRS-B will be one of the largest acquisition programs in history with broad strategic implications to the end of this century. Although I am not privy to the RFP, as a career stealth bomber pilot I believe the B-2 program can provide important lessons for this new program. Stealth technology is unique in many ways. We should learn from past struggles as we start at the ground floor of this new platform.
What should we do?
Resist research and development cost overruns: About 80 percent of stealth capability depends on the aircraft’s shape and design. The real cost comes in chasing the last 20 percent with cutting edge materials and technology. The B-2 evolved over the years to make it more maintainable, but few improvements were made in its baseline stealth signature. A focus on getting the overall shape right coupled with a balanced approach to pushing the technological boundaries can help significantly to control costs.
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Photo credit: AV8PIX Christopher Ebdon via flickr