B-21 Review a Refresher

The Air Force’s recent preliminary design review of the B-21 bomber—the second PDR of the program, the first one having taken place during the contract competition —seems to have been driven by a wish to regain momentum and make sure all is in order before detailed design begins. Lt. Gen. Arnold Bunch Jr., top USAF uniformed acquisition chief, told an AFA industry audience Thursday that the review was needed to “come back after the downtime”—the lengthy period between final evaluations between the competitors, the award to Northrop Grumman in late 2015, the period of stop-work while Boeing’s protest was adjudicated, and the resumption of effort. The “three day review” with Northrop Grumman—Bunch didn’t say when it took place—“was very valuable,” makes sure “we’re ready to go,” and signals the start of “detailed design,” he explained. “We completed the integrated baseline reviews set in the schedule” that synchronize the work of Northrop and all its program suppliers, Bunch said, and now the program is “proceeding along the schedule we laid out.” Bunch said the Air Force is closely monitoring performance of all the contractors–“we’re looking at, are they meeting their milestones”—and the next milestone will be critical design review, but he didn’t say when that would take place. The B-21 is arranged as a cost-plus-fee effort, and Northrop’s fee depends on hitting milestones on time. The fee decreases if it doesn’t. Bunch said the Air Force learned from the B-2 Spirit program that it needs to be more “transparent” on the B-21, especially with keeping Congress informed on its progress and making sure the public doesn’t get “sticker shock” from the price. All that information has been put out, Bunch said. “We’re using all the sources available to us” to determine how much and when program information can be revealed, he added, saying that the intelligence community, industry and the Office of the Secretary of Defense all have a hand in what’s exposed. Bunch said he doesn’t expect to “release any more details for a period of time. We’ve been very open so far…but…we’ve released enough” for the time being.