Northrop's long-range U.S. bomber work paused after protest

The corporate logo of Northrop Grumman is shown on a Fire Scout MQ-8 B unmanned helicopter during a ceremony at Naval Air Station North Island in Coronado, California, May 2, 2013. REUTERS/Mike Blake (Reuters)

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Work on a recently awarded long-range strike bomber contract to Northrop Grumman Corp has been paused after rivals Boeing Co and Lockheed Martin protested against the selection process, the U.S. Air Force said. Air Force spokesman Major Robert Leese said the order to stop work was issued after a formal protest was filed on Nov. 6.

In October, the Air Force selected Northrop, maker of the stealth B-2 aircraft, to develop and build the new bomber over a bid by a Boeing and Lockheed Martin team.

Boeing and Lockheed Martin complained that the selection process was "fundamentally flawed."

The protest reflected concerns about the Air Force's use of cost data from earlier bomber programs to assess the pricing of the planes, devaluing innovations and new manufacturing processes implemented in recent years, according to two sources familiar with the companies' thinking.

The bomber deal, analysts have said, could be valued at up to $80 billion if the U.S. Air Force buys all 100 stealth bombers now planned.

While Northrop referred queries about the pause in work to the Air Force, it has previously said that the protest decision was disappointing because it would disrupt a program important to national security. News of the pause was first reported by Aviation Week magazine.

The U.S. Government Accountability Office has said a ruling on the protest is due by Feb. 16, 2016.

(Reporting by Idrees Ali; Editing by Alistair Bell)

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