B-2 Stealth Bomber

A B-2 Spirit Stealth bomber taxis to the runway at the Northrop Grumman Corp. facility in Palmdale in 2014. Northrop will build 80 to 100 new strategic bombers over the next decade. (Al Seib / Los Angeles Times)

Melody Petersen and W.J. Hennigan
October 27, 2015

Aerospace giant Northrop Grumman Corp. won an intense four-year competition Tuesday to build the nation’s new fleet of stealth bombers, a project likely to create thousands of jobs in Southern California.

In an announcement at the Pentagon that took industry experts by surprise, the Air Force said Northrop had beaten a team from Boeing Co. and Lockheed Martin Corp. to build 80 to 100 long-range bombers over the next decade.

The project’s cost could eventually exceed $80 billion, making it one of the most expensive in the Pentagon’s history.

“Our team has the resources in place to execute this important program,” said Wes Bush, Northrop’s chairman, “and we’re ready to get to work.”

In the months leading up to the highly anticipated decision, Northrop had told local government officials that it planned to build much of the plane at the sprawling complex of hangars and runways in Palmdale known as Air Force Plant 42.

The company had said the contract could mean 1,400 new jobs at its Palmdale facility, which it leases from the military.

“We’re very excited,” Palmdale Mayor Jim Ledford said of the Pentagon’s decision. “Aerospace is what we do, and what we’ll continue to do.”

Two decades ago, Northrop built the bat-winged B-2 stealth bomber at the same site in the Mojave Desert about 70 miles northeast of downtown Los Angeles.

Northrop said little Tuesday about its plans other than releasing a short written statement from Bush.

But Rep. Steve Knight, a Republican who represents the Antelope Valley, said that a top Northrop executive had told him earlier that the plane “would be rolling out in Palmdale.”

Last year, Knight wrote a bill when he was a state legislator that will give Northrop, headquartered in Falls Church, Va., a tax credit of up to nearly $500 million in return for performing much of the work in Palmdale. Legislators gave Lockheed a similar tax incentive.

Northrop was seen as the underdog in the battle for the contract, fighting against the Boeing-Lockheed team that was considered better funded and more politically connected.

Analysts said Tuesday that they expect Boeing and Lockheed to challenge the decision.

On Tuesday, executives at the two rivals said they were disappointed. In a joint release, the companies said they were talking to the Air Force “before determining our next steps.”

Little is known about the new stealth bomber. Details are shrouded in secrecy. There is no word on what the as-yet unnamed bomber will look like or how fast and high it will fly.

Both teams had drawn up plans for the bomber under classified contracts in the Pentagon’s so-called black budget.

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