U.S. Air Force sticks to $550 million target for new bomber

The B-2 Spirit stealth bomber flies over the Missouri Sky after taking off from the Whiteman Air Force Base in Johnson County, Missouri, October 30, 2002.

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Air Force is "holding tight" to a target of $550 million for each new long-range bomber in a fleet of up to 100 aircraft, excluding research and development costs, an Air Force official said on Tuesday. "We're still using that as a pretty firm chalk line for those companies that are bidding on it and in determining which requirements make it, and which ones don't," Air Force Undersecretary Eric Fanning told reporters. He said the cost per aircraft would be higher if research and development costs and inflation were added. He acknowledged that "a number of people" thought the $550 million target was too low to develop the requirements needed for a next-generation bomber. The Air Force planned to spend nearly $12 billion on the bomber program over the next five years, said spokesman Ed Gulick. He said the $550 million target was calculated in 2010 dollars, assuming a fleet of 100 bombers. Boeing Co and Lockheed Martin Corp teamed up to compete against Northrop Grumman Corp to develop a successor to Northrop's B-2 bomber in one of the biggest aircraft development programs being launched by the U.S. military as defense budgets were being cut. The Air Force expected to formally kick off a competition this year with an eye to fielding the new aircraft in the mid-2020s. The project was one of the Air Force's priorities, along with the Lockheed F-35 fighter jet and the KC-46A refueling plane being built by Boeing. Fanning said the cost target for the bomber would help ensure that the Air Force and the companies involved remained disciplined about the capabilities and equipment proposed for the new aircraft. He said former Deputy Defense Secretary Ashton Carter had been passionate about limiting the cost of the program, and that the Air Force was "hewing pretty hard to that number." (Reporting by Andrea Shalal; editing by Andrew Hay and Amanda Kwan)