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STEALTH FUNDING SOUGHT MCKEON SEEKS $55 MILLION TO BUILD B-2 BOMBERS.

Byline: Charles F. Bostwick Staff Writer

PALMDALE - U.S. Rep. Howard P. ``Buck'' McKeon is asking Congress to authorize restarting Northrop Grumman's B-2 production line to build 40 more stealth bombers - which the company said it could do for $29.4 billion.

In a letter to House Armed Services Committee Chairman Bob Stump, McKeon asks for $55 million to buy critical materials, verify that subcontractors can be hired to make parts, and make sure the production machinery exists to build more bombers.

``The B-2 proved in Kosovo that it is highly effective as a strategic bomber operating in a conventional theater, not just as a nuclear deterrent,'' said McKeon, R-Santa Clarita, a member of the Armed Services Committee's subcommittee on procurement.

McKeon's letter asks for the Armed Services Committee to declare that the ``Global Strike Task Force'' envisioned by the Air Force needs at least 40 more stealth bombers.

Besides the B-2 money, the letter requested at least $415 million more in spending on a wide range of defense projects, including money to build a new fire station, control tower and operations and maintenance building at U.S. Air Force Plant 42, equipping Global Hawk spy planes for Navy use and transferring the National Aeronautics and Space Administration's canceled X-33 and X-34 programs to the Air Force.

McKeon asked that the money be included in the 2002 Defense Authorization Act, which authorizes defense spending for the fiscal year beginning Oct. 1.

The bill will likely modify President George W. Bush's proposed defense budget, which is expected to be unveiled this week.

``It's a timely request by the congressman,'' aide David Foy said.

A Defense Department study released two weeks ago called for making improvements to the B-2 bomber fleet and left open the possibility of restarting the production line.

The study, conducted for Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, recommended that the United States create a new ``long-range precision strike capability,'' which could include the B-2C, a proposed new, and cheaper, version of the stealth bombers.

Other ``precision strike'' options, however, could include unmanned bombers or even a weapon based in space, officials said.

Northrop Grumman has told Rumsfeld it could build 40 B-2Cs for a total cost of $29.4 billion. That averages to $735 million per aircraft, about one-third the cost of the original bombers. The 21 bombers cost $44 billion, including an estimated $20 billion in development costs.

The company says it could build the new version more cheaply by using updated manufacturing techniques and lower-cost components.

McKeon's request asks for $123 million for upgrades to the existing B-2 bomber fleet, including new satellite communications equipment and fittings to carry heavy bombs designed to destroy fortified enemy defenses.

In addition to the B-2 money, McKeon's letter asks for the Air Force to take over the X-34 and X-33 rocket planes, the projects that NASA abandoned in March on the grounds that the money they would take to finish wasn't justifiable.

McKeon's letter doesn't ask for a specific amount of money, but calls for ordering the Air Force to complete testing at Edwards Air Force Base.

McKeon's request for $19.3 million to build a new fire station, operations and maintenance building and control tower at U.S. Air Force Plant 42 was made because all three buildings date to the 1950s or before and should be replaced, Foy said.

``They're old and decrepit and crumbling,'' Foy said. ``Some of our staff went up in the tower. It was shaking when the wind blew.''

CAPTION(S):

photo

Photo:

(color) A Northrop Grumman B-2 stealth bomber takes off from Palmdale in 1999. The company wants to build 40 more.

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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Jun 26, 2001
Words:610
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