PALMDALE (CBSLA.com) – The Southern California economy just got a noticeable boost after the United States military announced Tuesday it awarded Northrop Grumman a $60 billion contract to produce as many as 100 long-range stealth bombers over the next decade.
The aircraft are expected to be assembled in Palmdale at a tightly secured facility known as Air Force Plant 42.
Palmdale residents like Michelle Klein, whose father worked for Northrop Grumman, hope the move will lead to new jobs in Southern California’s aerospace industry. “I’m thinking of applying for a job there,” Klein said.
With one of the highest unemployment rates in Southern California, the deal could not have come at a better time for the city.
CBS2/KCAL9’s Dave Bryan asked Palmdale’s mayor: “Is this the answer to your dreams?” “It’s certainly one of them,” smiled Mayor Jim Ledford.
“We presently have an 8.3 unemployment rate, clearly higher than we like it to be,” he said.
Ledford said it is a victory for the long-suffering aerospace industry in Southern California. The news came a year after the state Legislature passed tax incentives worth nearly $500 million for any company that builds the planes in Palmdale.
“California, we don’t have a reputation that’s necessary the cheapest place to do business or the least regulatory,” Ledford said. “I think the Legislature, I’ve got to give them a lot of credit here because they did step up. They did provide an incentive program, which levels the playing field more so in competition with other states.”
Northrop Grumman posted a YouTube video after the announcement was made, showing past generations of long-range bombers but leaving the next generation it will build up to your imagination.
The contract, which came after a four-year bidding process, could lead to 6,500 new jobs at Northrop and its suppliers throughout Southern California.
Real estate agent Marco Henriquez, a member of the Palmdale Planning Commission, said it will be good for business.
“Probably it’ll increase our sales by 10 percent. And obviously, there’s going to be more money out there to be spent if we can have these people to the area, whoever gets the jobs,” Henriquez said.
Palmdale resident Shenita Scott is excited to hear the news. “I think that’s great. I think that gives people a job. I mean there’s a lot of unemployed people around here.”
The announcement marks an important step in the Pentagon’s broader plan to modernize the entire nuclear force — missile-toting submarines, land-based intercontinental ballistic missiles and long-range bombers. The Congressional Budget Office estimates the cost at $348 billion over 10 years, and others have said it could approach $1 trillion over 30 years.
Two competing designs were submitted for consideration: one by Northrop Grumman and the other by a collaboration between Lockheed Martin and Boeing, according to reports.
Aerospace analysts say much of the B-3 jets will likely be assembled at a nearly 6,000-acre industrial park owned by the U.S. military in Palmdale, where the two most recent bomber jets, the B-1 and B-2, were built.
While the military has kept details about the aircraft highly classified, the B-3 jets will reportedly boast an unrefueled range of over 5,000 nautical miles and cost more than $550 million per plane, according to a Forbes report.
The new bomber is a high Air Force priority because the oldest ones in its fleet — the venerable B-52s — have far outlived their expected service life and even the newest — the B-2 stealth bombers — having been flying for more than two decades. A third bomber, the B-1, is used heavily for conventional strikes, but no longer is certified for nuclear missions.
The Air Force has said it will buy up to 100 of the new bombers for $550 million each. Industry news reports say that while the new plane’s specific capabilities are highly secret, it likely will be equipped with high-tech communications gear and other electronics that would allow it to perform a variety of missions, not just dropping bombs.
Assemblyman Tom Lackey, R-Palmdale, issued the following statement in response to the decision: “This is a huge win for the Antelope Valley and California’s aerospace industry. Hundreds of new jobs will be created, which will provide a badly needed injection into our local economy.”
For the defense companies who sought the contract, the stakes were high. Boeing has built most of the Air Force’s bombers, including the B-52. And it collaborated with Lockheed Martin on the F-22 stealth fighter. Northrop Grumman built the B-2 bomber fleet, which was originally planned to include 132 planes but was scaled back to 21 at the end of the Cold War.
Loren Thompson, a vocal advocate of the new bomber program, says it is a key part of modernizing the military at a time of increased U.S. focus on China’s growing might.
“The simple truth is that if the United States does not revitalize its dwindling fleet of heavy bombers, it probably cannot prevail in a war against China,” Thompson wrote earlier this month, citing what he called China’s increasingly dense and agile air defenses. He heads the Lexington Institute, which receives funding from major defense contractors.
The Obama administration has justified its support for a new long-range bomber by calling it vital to retaining U.S. military predominance. In January, shortly before he left office, then-Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel visited a bomber base in Missouri to underscore his argument that a new bomber would help deter war and preserve the U.S. military’s global reach.
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