CORRECTED: Attribution of Air Force Buying New Advanced Fighter
NATIONAL HARBOR: The Air Force’s new bomber, the B-21 Raider, should come in almost $40 million below the official $550 million a copy official estimate, says Randall Walden, director of the Air Force’s Rapid Capabilities Office. So, $511 million is the new $550 million.
After his panel here at the Air Force Associations 2016 annual conference, Walden said the Pentagon’s office of Cost Estimate and Program Analysis (CAPE) has produced a new estimate of $511 million a plane, which matches earlier estimates by the plane’s builder Northrop Grumman.
CAPE has been regularly performing cost estimates of the plane since 2012.
CORRECTION Lt. Gen. James Holmes, deputy chief of strategic plans and requirements, CORRECT ENDS
Walden made clear the Air Force will probably pursue a deep penetrating fighter to accompany the bomber to heavily defended targets deep inside a country. He didn’t say it but my understanding is war games have shown the B-21 is incapable of making it to western China to destroy the missile and artillery units there.
The aircraft concept is called Penetrating Counter-Air (PCA). The program, I understand is called PCAP.
Here’s what Air Superiority 2030 Flight Plan says about PCA:
“PCA will focus on maximizing tradeoffs between range, payload, survivability, lethality, affordability, and supportability. While PCA capability will certainly have a role in targeting and engaging, it also has a significant role as a node in the network, providing data from its penetrating sensors to enable employment using either stand-off or stand-in weapons.”
This seems consistent with rumors that the Air Force is pursuing a new program to build an aircraft to accompany the bomber deep into western China, where the Second Artillery has its facilities and many of China’s most important capabilities.
I’ve spoken with a number of industry experts who assume PCAP will be a program. They also decline to discuss it any detail, saying the threats and capabilities are classified.
Walden also told reporters after the panel ended that Northrop and its suppliers are encouraged by their contract to deliver airplanes on time and on budget, with the fees pegged mostly to the end of the contract. That, he said forces them to do a really good job in the early parts of the program since schedule problems in the beginning simply cascade outwards. The fact that the incentives also apply to the program’s suppliers is intriguing.
In a note sure to be read closely by Sen. John McCain, who has pressed for more openness on the B-21 program, Walden said the program is working closely with the Intelligence Community to assess what portions of the program can be declassified. He said they meet at least once a year with the IC. He also noted that professional staff on the House and Senate defense committee with the necessary clearances, as well as some senior lawmakers, have been briefed in detail about the plane’s costs, capabilities and programmatics.
Gen. Robin Rand, head of Air Force Global Strike Command, said the service is in the midst of discussions about which bombers to replace as the B-21 bombers come online. I asked him about this during a later Q and A. He revealed that a study he called “bomber vector” — a “very elaborate study” — is underway. The results will be briefed to Air Force Chief of Staff David Goldfein before the results are released.