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A visit to the Mojave Desert….

No, not by me….

The Mojave Desert has a lot going for it besides solar arrays and rare earth elements.

Like Air Force Plant 42…. (42? “The answer to life, the universe, and everything…?”)

The weapons acquisition chief for the Pentagon, Aston Carter, met separately with representatives of Northrop Grumman Corp., Lockheed Martin Corp., and Boeing Co., this month at the 5,800-acre Air Force Plant 42 in Palmdale, to discuss an estimated $55-billion contract for 80-100 nuclear weapons-capable long-range stealth bombers that could operate with or without a human pilot in the cockpit.

Northrop and Boeing expressed interest, Lockheed declined comment.

Currently, there is $197 million set aside in the 2012 budget for developing the bomber, and $3.7 billion is allocated over the next five years. Funding for the bomber program could already be underway through the Air Force’s $12.6-billion “black” (classified) budget for weapons research and development. The U.S. government did not reveal the existence of the B-2 program until a decade after it began.

The number of B-2 “Spirit” stealth bombers now stands at 20, after one crashed in Guam in 2008. The Air Force has 66 B-1 bombers built in the 1980s and 85 B-52 bombers that were built in the 1960s and modified for use today.

The new bomber could resemble existing drones. A Northrop drone, the X-47B, is designed to carry laser-guided bombs and be launched from an aircraft carrier. The RQ-170 Sentinel spy drone, the “Beast of Kandahar,” was developed at Lockheed’s Skunk Works and was reportedly used during the raid at Osama Bin Laden’s compound. Both of these drones were built at Plant 42. Boeing has a fighter-sized Phantom Ray drone that is undergoing test flights at Edwards Air Force Base, just north of Palmdale.

-Bill at

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