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Air Force launches competition for new bomber

The U.S. Air Force's B-52H bomber entered service in the 1960s.
The U.S. Air Force's B-52H bomber entered service in the 1960s.U.S. Air Force

The U.S. Air Force has formally launched a competition to build a new bomber aircraft.

The Air Force sent a request for proposals to industry on July 9, service spokesman Ed Gulick said July 11. The two expected bidders are a Boeing-Lockheed Martin team and Northrop Grumman.

While declining to say when proposals are due for the Long Range Strike-Bomber (LRS-B) program, the Air Force indicated it plans to choose one of the bidders in spring 2015.

"The LRS-B is a top modernization priority for the Air Force,” Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James said in a statement. “It will be an adaptable and highly capable system based upon mature technology. We look forward to industry's best efforts in supporting this critical national security capability."

Northrop Grumman said its experience designing, building and sustaining the B-2 Spirit, the Air Force’s newest bomber, “positions the company well” for the program.

Boeing and Lockheed Martin, which announced in October that they planned to join forces, have touted their nearly two centuries of combined experience developing major military aircraft, including the Air Force’s most advanced in-service fighter, the F-22 Raptor, which the two companies built together.

The Air Force has said little publicly about the LRS-B program, other than that it intends to buy 80 to 100 aircraft and hopes to begin fielding the new planes in the mid-2020s. The Air Force’s current bombers – the B-1, B-2 and B-52 – are aging, with the oldest aircraft, the B-52H, having entered service in the 1960s.

The Air Force's fiscal year 2015 budget request, which is pending in Congress, includes $914 million to jumpstart the bomber program.