The classified costs of the B-21 bomber should remain secret because revealing the figure would be “too insightful for the adversaries to get a sense of what they can do (and) what the U.S. can do in building that next generation bomber,” the official in charge of the program said Tuesday.
The bomber’s Engineering and Manufacturing Development contract costs, which Sen. John McCain has pressed hard to get declassified, will likely become public “some time in the future,” Randall Walden, director and program executive officer of the Air Force Rapid Capabilities Office (RCO), told a briefing at the Mitchell Institute, the Air Force Association think tank.
“Releasing that, releasing other things that may be more insightful to our adversaries, I don’t think helps the taxpayer. I don’t think it helps, certainly, the war fighter, because all we’re doing is, we’re putting them at risk,” Walden said. “And we’re showing our hand of what we believe this nation, in this case Northrop, can deliver this particular weapons system for.”
The Air Force has said developing the B-21 will cost about $23.5 billion total and that buying 100 of the stealthy, exotic long-range strike aircraft will cost about $55 billion. “That number is just for the bomber,” Walden said, noting that the “family of systems” it will use will cost extra.
Most Defense Department contract awards are publicly released. And the presumptive Air Force Chief of Staff, Gen. David Goldfein, appeared to open the door to declassification during his confirmation hearing last week.
“Chairman, I agree with you,” he told McCain, adding, “And I believe that if we’re not transparent with the American people on the cost of this weapons system, through its elected leadership, then we have a good chance of losing this program.”
The Air Force issued a statement to Breaking Defense later that seemed to walk Goldfein’s hearty agreement with McCain back a step or two, but even in his remarks Tuesday, RCO director Walden left a crack of daylight.
“The bottom line is, you give them (the bad guys) more information, you give them more detailed insight,” Walden said. But he also said this of the Northrop contract: “Some time in the future do we believe that’s going to be available? Absolutely. But right now is probably not the time to do that.”
Maybe after Goldfein is confirmed?