The Air Force desperately needs a new bomber, but the way it has gone about selecting a company to develop one, it could be a long time before Cold War bombers retire. Even though the Government Accountability Office ruled February 16 that the award to Northrop Grumman was proper in the sense of not violating acquisition standards, the program is so laden with risk that it is likely to go haywire long before the first “B-3” is operational circa 2025. The problem, in a nutshell, is that the Air Force doesn’t have enough money to modernize all the planes that need to be replaced, so it is demanding terms from offerors that are too difficult to meet. Whether it is a tanker or a bomber or a trainer, the winning bidder is always the one that bids most aggressively — which in the case of the bomber means a company that hasn’t integrated a manned strike aircraft in nearly 20 years. Aggressive bidding and lack of recent experience are a lethal combination when it comes to sticking with program budgets and schedules. I have written a commentary for Forbes here.
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