Science

US Congress Complains too Much Secrecy Cloaking B-21 Bomber Program

By | May 18, 2017 07:19 PM EDT
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B-21 Raider.(Photo : USAF)

The United States Congress has ordered an inquiry into the excessive secrecy surrounding the development of the U.S. Air Force's new stealth bomber -- the B-21 Raider -- after a government watchdog complained of being deliberately prevented from learning about how much this multi-billion dollar project really costs.

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The Office of Inspector General (OIG) of the Department of Defense, whose mission is to provide independent, relevant and timely oversight of the Department of Defense, reported to the Senate Appropriations Committee it was unable "to conduct an evaluation and submit a report" about the B-21 program as the Senate wanted because of the excessive secrecy shrouding the program.

"I can't provide further details because the project and the evaluation are classified," replied Bruce Anderson, an OIG spokesman.

Both the Defense Department and Congress are ordering a review of this apparent policy of excessive secrecy, even from oversight bodies.

OIG was ordered by Congress to evaluate and report to Congress within six months about spending and other concerns about the B-21 program under a provision of the $1.17 trillion government-wide spending bill for the current fiscal year.

The extreme secrecy continues from 2016 when the air force fended off requests from the Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman for basic information such as the value of the development contract awarded Northrop Grumman Corporation and the amount of the fee meant to encourage meeting program goals.

The air force has even refused to reveal how much the B-21 program costs. Former air force Secretary Deborah James last year said that disclosing "the contract value -- per the experts on these matters" such as engineers, "could be a contributing factor" to an adversary deriving information such as "size, weight, power and other factors."

What remains known is the B-21 program might cost $80 billion (initially); an artist's concept of the bomber; the cost goals per plane and the names of top subcontractors.

Last March, Gen. Stephen Wilson, Vice Chief of Staff of the Air Force, said subcontractors had completed preliminary design review of the B-21.

He said the B-21 program was "making great progress, and we're pleased with the way it's headed." Gen. Wilson also told U.S. Congressmen the B-21 is on schedule and on budget.

The Air Force plans to acquire some 100 B-21s for an estimated $80 billion. Initial operating capability for the nuclear-weapon strategic bomber capable of penetrating modern air defenses (such as those operated by China and Russia) is set for the mid-2020s.


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