Northrop Grumman executives feel the company could field a next-generation long range strike aircraft meeting the Air Force’s “2018 bomber” requirements as soon as 2015—but only if the funding profile changes. The way the money is currently forecast, an in-service date of 2020 looks more likely, said Charles Boccadoro, director of future strike systems for Northrop Grumman at meeting with reporters during AFA’s Air & Space Conference in Washington this week. Meeting even the earlier date is plausible, he said, because of the Air Force’s decision to stick with current and soon-to-be-ready technologies. He said that hitting the target dates will require flight-testing in 2012, a date that meshes with competitor Boeing’s own estimation of 2011-13.
Boeing’s receipt of the 10th lot contract award for the KC-46 Pegasus this week leaves just three lots left to complete the Air Force’s buy of the tanker, although a further buy of 75 additional aircraft as a “bridge” to the Next-Generation Aerial-refueling System (NGAS) seems increasingly likely.