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​The Air Force on Oct. 27 awarded the contract for its next generation stealth bomber to Northrop Grumman Corp., beginning a several-year, multi-billion process to reshape the service’s nuclear force. The long-awaited and heavily anticipated announcement was originally expected in the spring, with Air Force officials repeatedly delaying the award to make sure they “do it right.” Defense Secretary Ash Carter and Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James announced the award during a Tuesday evening press conference at the Pentagon, accompanied by Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Welsh and several other officials. The Air Force plans to procure up to 100 bombers, with a goal cost of no more than $550 million per aircraft, a goal that amounts to about one-third of the cost of the B-2 Spirit stealth bomber. The new bomber will replace the service’s aging B-52 and B-1 fleet, flying both conventional and nuclear payloads. The bomber will fly manned, and eventually the Air Force wants the platform to be able to fly unmanned. Northrop Grumman and the joint team of Lockheed Martin and Boeing have been developing their entries in advance of the award, with Northrop especially making a public case for its​ entry with high-profile advertisements. "The Air Force has made the right decision for our nation's security," said Northrop President Wes Bush in an Oct. 27 statement. "As the company that developed and delivered the B-2 Spirit stealth bomber, we look forward to providing the Air Force with a highly capable and affordable next-generation Long-Range Strike Bomber. Our team has the resources in place to execute this important program, and we're ready to get to work." (USAF release.)