Dayton contractor to work on new B-21 stealth bomber program

The next-generation bomber is scheduled to take off in the mid-2020s.

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A Dayton defense contractor will be one of the primary work locations on the secretive B-21 stealth bomber program, the Air Force disclosed Monday.

Virginia-headquartered Orbital ATK was revealed as one of seven primary contractors on the aircraft program, with work sites in Dayton and Clearfield, Utah, according to Secretary of the Air Force Deborah Lee James.

The Air Force decided to name the prime contractors on the Northrop Grumman bomber in a sign of transparency to gain public trust while protecting critical classified information, officials said.

James revealed the information in a State of the Air Force address Monday at the Pentagon.

“I think there’s quite a substantial recognition that we have threats around the world and we do need this bomber,” she said.

Air Force leaders would say only the specific contractors would work on the airframe and mission systems.

Orbital ATK’s website says the defense contractor has a 175,000-square-foot facility in Dayton that’s home to a metallic and composite machine shop, among other facilities.

The Air Force would not disclose the jet’s final assembly location, the value of the contract or incentives offered to the prime contractors that were tied to meeting requirements and deadlines. Unlike the KC-46, a future aerial tanker, the B-21 is not a fixed-price contract, officials said.

Last month, James unveiled an artist’s concept of the boomerang-shaped B-21, which observers have noted resembles the original design for the B-2 Spirit stealth bomber developed in the 1980s. Now, the Air Force is calling on the public to help name the next-generation bomber set to take off in the mid-2020s.

The Air Force has targeted fielding between 80 to 100 new bombers to replace the long-serving and aging B-52 Stratofortress and the swing-wing B-1B Lancer.

While the airframe will be new, the aircraft will use “mature technologies” in a bid to keep costs down and field the bomber by targeted dates, officials have said.

Dayton’s place in producing parts for the jet gives the region a key role in the future bomber fleet even as the Air Force chose the Washington, D.C.-headquartered Rapid Capabilities Office to develop the secret bomber. It’s not clear yet what role, if any, the Fighters and Bombers Directorate at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base will have in the development of the B-21.

Northrop Grumman competed against a joint Boeing and Lockheed Martin team to win the lucrative competition, and the Government Accountability Office upheld the Air Force selection despite a bid protest from the aerospace competitors.

Pratt & Whitney of East Hartford, Conn., will produce engines for the new bomber. The company’s biggest U.S. competitor is Evendale-based GE Aviation, which builds military jet engines near Cincinnati and has a parts assembly location in Vandalia.

Other B-21 contractors named were: BAE Systems in Nashua, N.H.; GKN Aerospace in St. Louis, Mo.; Janicki Industries in Sedro-Woolley, Wash.; Rockwell Collins in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, and Spirit Aerosystems in Wichita, Kan., according to the Air Force.

When asked about concerns over cyber espionage, Air Force officials said the contractors have cyber protections to protect against adversaries hacking sensitive program data.

“We believe we’re taking the appropriate security measures” to protect classified information, Lt. Gen. Arnold Bunch, a top Air Force acquisition leader, told reporters at the Pentagon.

In other news, Gen. Mark Welsh, Air Force chief of staff, said the service branch planned to open up the training pipeline for new drone pilots, with a goal to reach 384 positions in the next fiscal year from an average of about 180 pilots trained per year today.

“If we can get to 384 we’ll be making a big dent” in manning shortages, he said.

The Air Force aims to have 317,000 active-duty airmen, a jump of more than 4,000, to shore up high-demand in areas, such as more maintainers to keep aging planes flying, officials said.

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