The US Air Force yesterday said it had chosen Northrop Grumman Corp, maker of the B-2 stealth bomber, to build its next-generation bomber, a highly classified $80-billion project aimed at replacing the ageing bomber fleet with an information-age aircraft that eventually may be capable of pilot-less flight.
With the announcement, Grumman has beaten a team of Boeing Co and Lockheed Martin Corp in the high stakes contest.
"The long-range strike bomber will support America's defence strategy by forming the backbone of the Air Force's future strike and deterrent capabilities," defense secretary Ash Carter said at a Pentagon news conference.
According to Carter, the new bomber would meet the nation's long-range strike aircraft needs for the next 50 years.
In a brief statement, Wes Bush, chairman and chief executive of Falls Church, Virginia-based Northrop Grumman, that his company will deliver on its promise to build a highly capable, affordable aircraft.
"Our team has the resources in place to execute this important program, and we're ready to get to work," Bush said.
The announcement marked an important step in the Pentagon's broader modernisation plan for the entire nuclear force - missile-toting submarines, land-based intercontinental ballistic missiles and long-range bombers.
The Congressional Budget Office has projected the cost at $348 billion over 10 years, while others said it could approach $1 trillion over 30 years.
According to Carter, the programme represented a ''technological leap'' that will allow the US to ''remain dominant.''
He added, the bomber, which will be capable of carrying nuclear weapons, is a ''strategic investment for the next 50 years.''
The competition was for building 100 of the planes that would enter service in the 2020s and replace the fleet of aging bombers now in service. According to commentators, the announcement of the award had finally lifted the veil of secrecy around the project. The Pentagon has not disclosed what the planes will look like and had also not detailed the all their capabilities.
''This is the last combat aircraft contract for another 10 years, at least,'' said Richard Aboulafia, an aerospace analyst with the Teal Group.