Budget Impasse Could Delay B-21 Bomber Program

By Connie Lee
B-21 concept art

Concept Art: Nothrop Grumman

The Air Force's B-21 stealth bomber program would be delayed if Congress continues passing continuing resolutions to fund the government, a top service official warned Jan. 18.

The latest stopgap spending measure, which funds military programs at the levels of the previous fiscal year, expires Friday. Lawmakers must pass annual appropriations bills or another CR by then in order to avoid a government shutdown.

Under a full-year CR, funding for the new B-21 Raider would be constrained to $1.3 billion — the amount appropriated for the program in fiscal year 2017. Because the service’s fiscal year 2018 budget request for the program was $2 billion, this would mean the Air Force would face a $700 million “shortfall,” Air Force Undersecretary Matthew Donovan said at an Air Force Association event in Washington, D.C.

If lawmakers continue to kick the can down the road with a long-term CR, it would hinder the program’s engineering and manufacturing development work, he said. “This will have the effect to postpone the delivery of a ... critical strategic capability."

The B-21 is one of the Air Force's top acquisition priorities. Initial operational capability is slated for the mid-2020s. The Air Force plans to purchase at least 100 of the aircraft. Northrop Grumman is the prime contractor.

Donovan did not provide estimates for how long an extended CR would delay the program. 

“If we’re not able to ramp up on our schedule for the acquisition program baseline, then of course it’s going to have an impact on the other end," he said. "You can’t make up for that."

Donovan declined to say whether or not the service is requesting that the B-21 program be granted an "anomaly" by Congress, a budgetary maneuver which would exempt it from the constraints of another continuing resolution. An anomaly is “sort of a double-edged sword,” he said.

“The more anomalies that we send over for [Congress] to approve during a CR means it’s more likely that [lawmakers] won’t actually give us an appropriation because it kind of takes the pressure off,” he added.

The Air Force hopes to increase the program’s funding in fiscal year 2019. The Pentagon's 2019 budget request is scheduled to be released next month. It will align with the new national defense strategy — which is expected to be released Friday – and prioritize capabilities for a long-term competition with Russia and China, Donovan said.

“Specific to the Air Force, the FY19 budget request works to build the size and … capability we need to compete, deter and win in this environment,” he said.

Additional budget initiatives include preparing for the program objective memorandum 2020 build by conducting a “zero-based” review of all Air Force programs, he noted. The review, which focuses on determining which programs and requirements fall in line with efforts to enhance lethality, kicked off this month and is scheduled to run until March, he said.

“Programs will have to fight their way back into the budget,” Donovan said, noting the review will also identify areas in which the Air Force can afford to take more risks.

Topics: Acquisition, Acquisition Programs, Aviation, Air Force News, Defense Department

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