The Air Force said Tuesday that Northrop Grumman will build the next generation stealth bomber.
The Associated Press reports that Northrop Grumman beat out a team formed by two other defense contractors, Boeing and Lockheed Martin, to secure the "highly classified, $55 billion project" that will "replace the aging bomber fleet with an information-age aircraft that eventually may be capable of flying without a pilot aboard."
According to the Washington Post, "Defense Secretary Ashton Carter said [the new design] represents a 'technological leap' that will allow the U.S. to 'remain dominant.' The bomber, which would carry nuclear weapons, is a 'strategic investment for the next 50 years.'"
The AP adds that a new bomber is a high priority for the Air Force, considering some of the older bombers, the B-52s, have "far outlived their expected service." Even the newer planes, the B-2 stealth bombers, have been in use for more than 20 years.
"A third bomber, the B-1, is used heavily for conventional strikes, but no longer is certified for nuclear missions," the AP says, noting that the new bombers would be equipped to carry nuclear weapons.
While proponents of the new bomber program characterize it as a necessary step to ensure U.S. security, critics question whether it is necessary, especially at such a high cost.
But, the AP says, the Obama administration "has justified its support for a new long-range bomber by calling it vital to retaining U.S. military predominance."