F-35 Gets Cheaper, B-52 Gets New Engines, and B-1B Fades to Raider

An F-35A Lightning II from the 388th Fighter Wing takes off from Hill Air Force Base, Utah, for a training mission, June 22, 2021. The 388th Fighter Wing’s mission is to employ combat power with the Air Force’s most advanced 5th-generation fighter, and works to do so alongside the Air Force Reserve’s 419th Fighter Wing in a total-force partnership. (U.S. Air Force photo by Capt. Kip Sumner).

Friday’s contracts from DOD included this gem, pointing out that F-35s now run about $68.7 million a pop, which is actually down a bit from the $80 million-per-aircraft price tag seen previously:

Lockheed Martin Corp., Lockheed Martin Aeronautics Co., Fort Worth, Texas, is awarded a $1,099,631,252 modification (P00008) to a previously awarded fixed-price incentive (firm target) advance acquisition contract (N0001920C0009). This modification exercises options for the production and delivery of 16, Lot 15 F-35 Lightning II aircraft: 10 for the Air Force and six for the Marine Corps. Work will be performed in Fort Worth, Texas (57%); El Segundo, California (14%); Warton, United Kingdom (9%); Cameri, Italy (4%); Orlando, Florida (4%); Nashua, New Hampshire (3%); Baltimore, Maryland (3%); San Diego, California (2%); Nagoya, Japan (2%); and various locations outside the continental U.S. (2%), and is expected to be completed in May 2026. Fiscal 2021 aircraft procurement (Navy) funds in the amount of $439,938,432; and fiscal 2021 aircraft procurement (Air Force) funds in the amount of $659,692,820 will be obligated at time of award, none of which will expire at the end of the current fiscal year. The Naval Air Systems Command, Patuxent River, Maryland, is the contracting activity.

The 100 Year Bomber?

B-52A #1 employee rollout ceremony, Seattle, Washington, March 18 1954

Then there is this, a contract for 608 new Rolls-Royce F-130 engines for the 70 or so aircraft left in the B-52H fleet, or about 8.6 engines per each eight-engined strategic bomber, replacing the old Pratt & Whitney TF33s when have been out of production since 1988. Once they are re-engined, the USAF says the refreshed B-52s will be in service through (at least) 2045. As the newest Stratofortress airframe came off the line in 1962, this makes it increasingly possible that these could be the first 100-year-old warplanes still in service should that timeline get extended, especially if the dozen or so B-52H frames in the desert at Davis-Monthan and those on display are considered.

I mean think about it, the new Rolls-Royce engines are set to be delivered through 2038…and there is this gem from Tom Bell, Chairman & CEO, Rolls-Royce North America, and President – Defense, who said, “We are proud to join a truly iconic U.S. Air Force program and provide world-class, American-made engines that will power its missions for the next 30 years.”

Rolls-Royce Corp., Indianapolis, Indiana, has been awarded an estimated $500,870,458 indefinite-delivery/indefinite-quantity contract with a six-year base period for B-52 Replacement Engines, with a potential total of $2,604,329,361 if all options are exercised. This contract provides for 608 commercial engines plus spare engines, associated support equipment and commercial engineering data, to include sustainment activities, to be used on the B-52H bomber fleet. The location of performance is Indianapolis, Indiana, and work is expected to be completed by Sept. 23, 2038. This award is the result of a competitive acquisition in which one solicitation was posted and four offers were received. Fiscal 2021 research and development funds in the amount of $5,464,452 are being obligated at the time of award. Air Force Life Cycle Management Center, Tinker Air Force Base, Oklahoma, is the contracting activity (FA8107-21-D-0001).

Bye, Bye B-ONE. Hello, Raider

Finally, 17 B-1Bs, of much more recent vintage than the B-52s but somehow in worse shape, were pulled from the line to make room for the new B-21 Raider, of which five are currently under construction. 

A B-1B Lancer, tail number 85-0074, taxis at Edwards Air Force Base, California, Sept. 23, 2021 for its final flight. The aircraft is the last of 17 Lancers previously identified for divestiture by Air Force Global Strike Command and flew to the boneyard at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Arizona. (Air Force photo by Clay Cupit)

As noted by the Air Force: 

The 17 B-1B aircraft were retired from a fleet of 62, leaving 45 in the active inventory. Out of the 17 retired, one aircraft went to Tinker Air Force Base, Oklahoma, as a prototype for structural repair actions. One went to Edwards AFB as a ground tester. One went to Wichita, Kansas, at the National Institute for Aviation Research for digital mapping, and one went to Barksdale Air Force Base, Louisiana, as a static display for the Barksdale Global Power museum. The remaining 13 aircraft will be stored at the boneyard at the 309th Aerospace Maintenance and Regeneration Group at Davis-Monthan AFB in Type 4000 storage. Four of those will remain in a reclaimable condition that is consistent with Type 2000 recallable storage.

The retirement of the aircraft did not affect the service’s lethality or any associated maintenance manpower, and allowed officials to focus maintenance and depot-level manpower on the remaining aircraft, increasing readiness and paving the way to for bomber fleet modernization to meet future challenges.

“Beginning to retire these legacy bombers allows us to pave the way for the B-21 Raider,” Bell said. “Continuous operations over the last 20 years have taken a toll on our B-1B fleet, and the aircraft we retired would have taken between 10 and 30 million dollars per aircraft to get back to a status quo fleet in the short term until the B-21 comes online.”

One comment

  • As I understand it, one reason the B-1 fleet has been hard to maintain is the way they were built. Instead of a contract for 100 planes they were contracted in groups of 5-10. That means each batch might have had different subcontractors which means different parts. In essence, no two planes are alike.

    The British ran into this when they were going to Nimrod update. When the planes were built, none of them were built to the same standard so when they went rewing them nothing fit.

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