Elected officials representing Anne Arundel County at all levels of government were invited to Linthicum on Nov. 10 to celebrate the award of the Long-Range Strike Bomber (LRS-B) program to Northrop Grumman Corp. (NGC).

On Oct. 27, the U.S. Air Force announced that it selected NGC to build the new aircraft that is expected to replace the nation’s aging fleet of B-52 Stratofortress and B-1B Lancer bombers.

But while NGC officials were finalizing plans for a victory lap that stopped at the defense contractor’s major manufacturing facilities across the United States, joint bid competitors Boeing and Lockheed Martin were busy filing a formal protest with the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to question the selection process.

The GAO has 100 days after receiving the protest to review details and issue a ruling.

State, Local Benefit

Knowledge of the protest did not dampen the mood at the NGC celebration in Linthicum.

“This win reflects unmatched innovation and affordability for our customer,” said Gloria Flach, president of NGC’s Electronic Systems sector. “This gives our nation an overwhelming and asymmetric advantage in security missions.”

Congressman Dutch Ruppersberger, who serves on the House of Representatives Subcommittee on Defense, acknowledged the LRS-B as one of the largest contracts the Department of Defense (DoD) has allotted in the last decade.

“To be able to get this contract and how many jobs it’s going to create is just outstanding,” he said. “[NGC has] 10,000 jobs in this state, the largest manufacturing company in the state of Maryland. We’re going to give you state, federal and local support and work with you on a regular basis.”

According to Maryland Lt. Gov. Boyd Rutherford, the award is good news not only for NGC, but also for its 1,500 Maryland suppliers.

“Only 10% of the nation’s bomber force is capable of penetrating sophisticated adversary air defense systems,” he said. “As a result, the majority of our current bomber force is vulnerable and our battlefield advantage is eroding in the face of a constantly evolving threat. This new bomber will maintain our country’s ability to project power from strategic distances, hold targets at risk and, regardless of the threat level, to succeed.”

Calling the award a testament to NGC’s workforce, Congressman John Sarbanes said the government wants to select the group that projects the most confidence in order to extend that confidence to war-fighters on the battlefield. “The person who designs and builds that tool … is part of the team,” he said.

“We are excited about the economic benefits to our county and its working families, but more importantly we’re excited that Anne Arundel County is playing a role in keeping our nation safe,” said Anne Arundel County Executive Steve Schuh.

Strike, Counterstrike

After filing their protest, Boeing and Lockheed Martin officials said they would hold further discussions with the Air Force before determining their next steps.

“We are interested in knowing how the competition was scored in terms of price and risk, as we believe the combination of Boeing and Lockheed Martin offers unparalleled experience, capability and resources for this critically important recapitalization program,” they said in a joint press release.

NGC officials countered with their own release, expressing disappointment that their competitors were disrupting a program vital to national security.

“The U.S. Air Force conducted an exceptionally thorough and disciplined process with multiple layers of review,” NGC officials said, arguing that their approach was inherently more affordable and based on demonstrated performance and capabilities.

“As the only company to ever design and build a stealth bomber, we offered the best solution for our nation’s security,” they wrote. “We look forward to the GAO reaffirming the Defense Department’s decision so we can continue work on this critically vital program.”

Scant Details

While specific information regarding LRS-B’s cost, jobs and expected economic impact remain classified, the Air Force did share a few details regarding the scope of the project and the timeline for delivery earlier this year.

At a DoD press conference on Aug. 24, U.S. Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Welsh projected that his service expected to field the new bomber in the mid-2020s.

“[Delivery] would probably continue for 25 years or so; that’s our rough guess depending on production rates of the program,” he said.

An Air Force press release issued in July indicated that the Air Force plans to purchase 80 to 100 LRS-B aircraft at a $550 million average unit procurement cost, in base year 2010 dollars.

Based on its manufacturing focus and ongoing programs, it can be assumed that the Electronic Systems sector, in Linthicum, would be expected to develop and build radar, sensor and other electronic systems for the LRS-B.

“The Air Force has made the right decision for our nation’s security,” said NGC Chairman, CEO and President Wes Bush. “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.”