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US Air Force Unveils First Official Image Of B-21, Its Next-Generation Stealth Bomber

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The U.S. Air Force releases the official image of its next warplane made by Northrop Grumman, calling it the B-21 or Long Range Strike Bomber.

U.S. Air Force Secretary Deborah James unveiled the artist's first work of the stealth bomber at the Air Force Association's Air Warfare Symposium on Feb. 26, an event held on a yearly basis. She also noted that the other service members will help in naming the plane.

"This aircraft represents the future for our Airmen, and [their] voice is important to this process. The Airman who submits the selected name will help me announce it at the [Air Force Association] conference this fall," James says.

The B-21 sports an all-black design and an angular V-like shape. It looks like it took some cues from the Air Force's B-2, another bomber manufactured by Northrop Grumman as well. This new next-generation stealth bomber will replace the outdated B-52 and B-2 bombers.

The project has been kept under a low profile to prevent intelligence from falling into the wrong hands and providing information to losing bidders.

Back in October, Northrop Grumman was awarded with a contract valued at about $60 billion to build 100 units. However, Boeing along with Lockheed Martin protested, causing a delay that lasted for months before work on the new bomber began. Now, they have agreed not to push any legal action against the contract.

The Air Force will give out more details regarding the B-21 sometime in March, facing pressure from numerous lawmakers and retired officers of the Air Force.

The project is still not in the clear, though, as it still has to undergo scrutiny from the Congress.

According to the John McCain, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, he will hamper the Air Force from using a cost-plus contract for the B-21 because the government will be responsible of budget overruns.

The Air Force says that the engineering and development point of the program is estimated to have a value of $21.4 billion and that it's arranged as a cost-plus contract with incentive fees. The first five sets of a new model usually cost the most, and the U.S. service branch assures that they'll be set at a fixed price.

Industry analysts estimate that the entire program will cost $80 billion, but the Air Force says that each plane will amount to $511 million in 2010 dollars.

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