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McCain Pledges To Stop LRSB; Which Bomber Will Be Retired?

Posted by Colin Clark on


Northrop Grumman Long Range Strike Bomber concept (LRSB)

Northrop Grumman Long Range Strike Bomber concept (LRSB)

UDATED: Adds Air Force React

AFA WINTER: Sen. John McCain pledged to stop the Long Range Strike Bomber program in its tracks today unless the Pentagon uses a different type of contract.

My colleagues at Defense News quoted McCain this way:

John McCain

John McCain

“My biggest concern is the cost-plus provision in the contract. I will not stand for cost-plus contracts. They will say it’s because they’re not sure of some of the things they need in the development stage,” the senator said. “Fine, then don’t bid on it until you do know. If you have a cost-plus contract, tell me one time that there hasn’t been additional costs, then I would reconsider. The mindset in the Pentagon that still somehow these are still acceptable is infuriating.”

The plane’s development was awarded with a cost-plus incentive fee. The first five low rate production buys use a fixed-price incentive fee contract. But the work now is development, so language banning work on the aircraft using such a contract might stop it. However, I think it’s reasonable to conclude that, powerful as McCain is in his position as chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, he may face serious opposition to such a position from some of his House colleagues, not to mention from appropriators in both the House and Senate.

UPDATE BEGINS
“The Air Force is aware of the concerns that Senator McCain has with regards to the contract type for the Long Range Strike Bomber (LRS-B). In developing the acquisition strategy and contract type for the LRS-B program, the program built upon lessons learned from previous acquisition programs. The contract has been set up to be cost-plus with incentives for the Engineering and Manufacturing Development phase. The second part of the contract is for the initial production of the first 5 lots, which are usually the most expensive aircraft, and will be firm fixed price,” Air Force spokesman Ann Stefanek said in a statement

“The Air Force values the oversight role that Senator McCain has and looks forward to continuing to work with him and the Committee on moving forward with this critical capability for the Department and the nation. The Department looks forward to being able to provide the Senator a complete briefing of the program at his earliest convenience.”UPDATE ENDS

I’ve pinged the Air Force and OSD for a comment. Not sure they’ll want to reply, but we’ll add it if they do.

Air Force photo

Gen. Robin Rand

Gen. Robin Rand, head of Air Force Global Strike Command, told reporters here that he can present an argument that is “very logical that we are going to need this platform.” He didn’t address the specifics of the contract type.

In other bomber news, Rand became the first senior officer to say that the Air Force will have to retire one of its bombers from the fleet as the Long Range Strike Bomber (LRSB) comes along.

“We couldn’t maitain four bombers if we wanted to,” Rand told reporters.

This raises interesting questions about the future of the B-1 and the B-52, the most likely candidates for retirement. Complicating the issue is the Arsenal Plane, Defense Secretary Ash Carter’s special effort to load up “one of our oldest aircraft platforms (the newest B-52 was built in 1964)” with tons of weapons and sensors. “In practice,” Carter said in announcing it, “the arsenal plane will function as a very large airborne magazine, network to fifth generation aircraft that act as forward sensor and targeting nodes, essentially combining different systems already in our inventory to create holy new capabilities.”

Most of that seems to argue for the B-52, but this effort is so much in the conceptual stage that it’s difficult to say with assurance which plane will be used. Rand told a small group of reporters that the argument for retiring one of the four planes was simple. The Air Force doesn’t have enough capacity or money to maintain and pay for four different bombers to fly.

What do you think?