PALMDALE – The U.S. Air Force awarded Northrop Grumman Corp. a contract worth up to $60 billion Tuesday to build the nation’s next-generation stealth bomber — a project that is expected to be a major boon to the local aerospace sector with much of the assembly work likely to be done in the Palmdale area.
An onslaught of new job openings are expected in the wake of the contract for a fleet of radar-evading long-range bombers to replace the 30-year-old B-1 and the Eisenhower-era B-52.
“This is a huge win for the Antelope Valley and California’s aerospace industry,” said Assemblyman Tom Lackey (R-Palmdale). “Hundreds of new jobs will be created which will provide a badly needed injection into our local economy.”
Sen. Sharon Runner (R-Antelope Valley) said the project “will significantly bolster our manufacturing workforce, potentially providing more than 1,000 new jobs.”
The Long-Range Strike Bomber will be one of the Pentagon’s biggest weapons systems of the next decade, and is slated to enter service in the mid-2020s.
The fleet will “extend our ability to reach any target around the world,” Defense Secretary Ash Carter said, calling the aircraft the “backbone” of the military’s new air program.
The estimated $60 billion initial contract is one of the largest in Air Force history and culminates an intense four-year battle involving three of the world’s largest military contractors. Northrop Grumman was battling for the contract against a combined bid by Boeing Co. and Lockheed Martin Corp. [View more on the LRS-B contract award here.]
Much of the plane will likely be assembled at Air Force Plant 42 in Palmdale, a 5,800-acre industrial park owned by the military but leased to aerospace contractors. According to some reports, the project could create more than 6,500 aerospace jobs in the area – helping to offset recent Pentagon spending cuts that have crippled the industry locally.
“I extend my congratulations to Northrop Grumman and look forward to watching this project develop in our community,” stated Congressman Steve Knight (R-Antelope Valley).
“Winning this contract would not have been possible without Congressman Knight’s work to create a state tax incentive for aerospace jobs,” Lackey added.
The new bomber is an Air Force priority because the oldest ones in its fleet have far outlived their expected service life and even the newest – the B-2 stealth bombers – have been flying for more than two decades, said Deborah Lee James, the secretary of the Air Force.
A third bomber, the B-1, is used heavily for conventional strikes, but no longer is certified for nuclear missions.
The Air Force has said it will buy up to 100 of the new bombers for $550 million each.
While the new plane’s specific capabilities are highly secret, it likely will be equipped with high-tech communications gear and other electronics that would allow it to perform a variety of missions, not just dropping bombs, according to news reports.
The first version will be piloted and carry conventional weapons, followed by a version that can carry nuclear warheads. An unmanned model may follow.
“This is a big win for not only Palmdale, but for Southern California as well,” said Palmdale Mayor Jim Ledford. “With so many defense contractors and sub-contractors here, this means good jobs, a boost to our economy. Having Edwards Air Force base, the premier flight test facility in the world, makes the connection seamless.”
“This news, combined with the recent announcement of the Oasis Wellness Center coming to Palmdale, Kinkisharyo already manufacturing rail cars for Metro, and both the California High Speed Rail and the Xpress West high speed rail from Las Vegas stopping in Palmdale paints a very bright future for our community,” Ledford said.
“A lot [of] hard work went into making this a reality,” Ledford said. “Our thanks go to Bill Allen and the Los Angeles Economic Development Corporation business assistance and development office, Congressman Steve Knight, Assemblyman Tom Lackey, as well as County Supervisor Michael D. Antonovich and his Chief of Staff Kathryn Barger for their tireless efforts.”
Editor’s note: Story updated to include comments from Palmdale Mayor Jim Ledford.
[City News service contributed to this report.]