Announced at a Department of Defense press conference today, Northrop Grumman has been awarded the Air Force's contract to produce the Long Range Strike-Bomber (LRS-B), a next-generation warplane capable of carrying nuclear weapons that will begin to replace aging B-52s and B-1s. The B-52s in the military's arsenal have been in service for roughly half a century, and are expected to continue flying for several more decades. Northrop Grumman had been competing against Boeing and Lockheed Martin for the deal, which will value the aircraft at about a half billion dollars each. As many as 100 may eventually be built. (By contrast, only 21 B-2 stealth bombers were ever made.)
The LRS-B bid has been underway for several years, and as with any major military expenditure, it hasn't been without controversy: focus for the craft has been on repurposing existing technologies rather than exploring new ones — unmanned systems, for instance — which could leave the LRS-B with a far shorter lifespan than the nearly ageless B-52 that it seeks to replace. There's also the question of whether upgraded nuclear bombers are needed at all with the Cold War decades in the past, though renewed tensions with Russia and a technologically sophisticated Chinese force pose new challenges that may not have existed a decade ago.
Unfortunately, we don't know exactly what the LRS-B will look like, apart from the fact that it'll be designed for stealth operation — while Northrop Grumman teased its vision of the plane in a January TV spot (above), the final design has yet to be unveiled to the public, a move that will require government approval.