11 May 2011 By DAVE MAJUMDAR DefenseNews
The U.S. Air Force is creating an office for its new bomber program, a top service official said. "We've got a general mandate from the Secretary of Defense to go forward with standing up the program office, so we're just at the beginning of that work," said Air Force undersecretary Erin Conaton at a May 11 breakfast sponsored by the Air Force Association. Still to come: detailed requirements, a firmer production plan than the 80- to 100-plane estimate, and more. "We don't have a full life-cycle cost yet," Conaton said. "That's the work that'll be done now by the program office as they stand up," Conaton said. The number of aircraft to be purchased will be refined as the service gets a better idea of the capabilities offered by the under-development bomber, Conaton said. "Eighty to 100 is our current best estimate of what we think we'll need, but that estimate will be refined over time as we see the capability and what we think we can afford," she said. Most important to the Air Force is that the fleet be much larger than the force of 20 B-2 stealth bombers, whose small numbers make them more troublesome and expensive to maintain, she said. The Air Force plans to manage the program under the auspices of the Rapid Capabilities Office because it offers more streamlined acquisitions than the regular channels, Conaton said. "The idea is to try to get capability as quickly as possible, leveraging as many existing technologies as possible," she said. Conaton acknowledged that the bomber isn't being fielded under what is usually thought of as a rapid capability, but she said the process is faster and simpler than the traditional process.