A B-2 Spirit drops 500-pound bombs during a U.S. Air Force firepower demonstration at the Nevada Test and Training Range September 14, 2007 near Indian Springs, Nevada. (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)
A Pentagon contract worth up to $55 billion to build the nation's next-generation, nuclear-capable bomber could be a boon to Southern California's aerospace sector, regardless of which defense contractor is chosen.
Northrop Grumman, Lockheed Martin and Boeing executives recently met with Pentagon weapons-buying chief Ashton Carter in Palmdale to talk about building 80-100 long-range bombers that may or may not carry a pilot, the Los Angeles Times reported.
"Our people and capabilities in California and across the company stand ready to assist the Defense Department and the U.S. Air Force in meeting the nation's future requirements for the long-range-strike mission," Northrop spokesman Randy Belote told the newspaper.
Northrop's B-2 program in Palmdale -- only 21 of the bat-winged bombers were built -- involved about 40,000 employees at aerospace facilities all over the country, including about 15,000 in the Southland.
Though executives with the contractors declined to talk about the specifics of the discussion with Carter, each firm expressed interest in the job, which would have a trickle-down effect on scores of Southern California firms, The Times reported.
Rep. Howard P. "Buck" McKeon, R-Santa Clarita, chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, has been monitoring the project.
"The Air Force and the Defense Department have made clear that replacements are needed for America's aging bomber fleet and that long-range strike should be a priority," McKeon aide John Noonan told the newspaper. "The chairman concurs with their assessment."
About $197 million is set aside for developing the bomber in the fiscal 2012, and $3.7 billion is allocated over the next five years, Air Force Maj. Chad Steffey told The Times.
The new bomber is expected to look similar to the B-2.
Northrop has a drone, dubbed X-47B, that was built in Palmdale, designed to carry laser-guided bombs and be launched from an aircraft carrier.
Lockheed's RQ-170 Sentinel spy drone, called the "Beast of Kandahar," was developed and built at Lockheed's famed Skunk Works in Palmdale and reportedly was used during the raid at Osama bin Laden's compound.
Boeing's fighter-size Phantom Ray drone is undergoing test flights at Edwards Air Force Base, just north of Palmdale.