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Northrop wins $55bn contract for next-gen bomber – as America says bye-bye to B-52

New craft will be stealthy, smart and stupidly expensive

The US Department of Defense has announced that Northrup Grumman will be supplying its next generation of Long Range Strike Bomber (LRSB) to replace the aging B-52 and B-2 fleets.

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"Over the past century, no nation has used air power to accomplish its global reach -- to compress time and space -- like the United States," said Defense Secretary Ash Carter

"Building this bomber is a strategic investment in the next 50 years, and represents our aggressive commitment to a strong and balanced force. It demonstrates our commitment to our allies and our determination to potential adversaries, making it crystal clear that the United States will continue to retain the ability to project power throughout the globe long into the future."

The first prototypes of the new bomber won’t take to the skies until 2025 at the earliest, and is unlikely to be operational for years after that. But it's going to be packed with the latest technology to shield it from ever-smarter missiles and other weapons systems.

"The Air Force has made the right decision for our nation's security," said Wes Bush, CEO of Northrop Grumman. "As the company that developed and delivered the B-2 Spirit stealth bomber, we look forward to providing the Air Force with a highly-capable and affordable next-generation Long-Range Strike Bomber. Our team has the resources in place to execute this important program, and we're ready to get to work."

Like the B-2, it will be using radar-absorbing materials and high-tech weapons. Directed-energy anti-missile technology has been touted for the aircraft by some analysts, as has the ability to carry electronic payloads that could disrupt enemy computer systems.

It will also be very, very expensive – the Pentagon estimates that the total contract will cost $55bn, with a per bomber unit cost of over $500m for each. But with cost overruns in development usual for this kind of project some analysts estimate the cost could be reach $80bn.

That's a lot of money, more than four times what the US pays for NASA, but the end result will be a fleet of aircraft capable of striking anywhere in the world and smart enough (the military hopes) to make it back to base. ®

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