Bomber, a new aircraft under development to be called the B-21, Air Force Secretary Deborah James said.
"The service plans to procure 100 LRS-B aircraft. The aircraft preserves the President’s options for missions across the full range of military operations from permissive to anti-access/area denial environments. It will serve as the air component of the nuclear triad, providing a visible and flexible nuclear deterrent capability," an Air Force statement said.
The Air Force ultimately plans to acquire as many as 80 to 100 new bombers for a price of roughly $550 million per plane, Air Force leaders have said.
"Our Nation needs this capability," said Chief of Staff of the Air Force Gen. Mark A. Welsh III. "The current bomber fleet is aging. The technology advantage the U.S. has enjoyed is narrowing. This new bomber will provide unmatched combat power and agility to respond and adapt faster to our potential adversaries."
Over the last two to three years, the Air Force has worked closely with defense companies as part of a classified research and technology phase. So far, the service has made a $1 billion technology investment in the bomber.
Northrop Grumman is competing against a partnership of Boeing and Lockheed Martin for the rights to build the bomber. Last year, Northrop Grumman ran a regional Super Bowl ad pitching the company’s experience building Air Force bombers.
The new LRS-B is slated to fly alongside and replace the Air Force’s bomber fleet to include the B-2 stealth bomber.
Although much of the details of the LRS-B development are not publically available, Air Force leaders have said the aircraft will likely be engineered to fly unmanned missions as well as manned missions.
The new aircraft will be designed to have global reach, in part by incorporating a large arsenal of long-range weapons. The LRS-B is being engineered to carry existing weapons as well as nuclear bombs and emerging and future weapons, Air Force officials explained.
In particular, the aircraft is being engineered to evade increasingly sophisticaed air defenses which now use faster processors and sensors to track even stealthy aircraft at longer ranges.