By Andrea Shalal
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Air Force still aims to award a long-awaited contract for a new long-range strike bomber in August, but the decision could slip into September, Air Force Secretary Deborah James said Wednesday, adding it was crucial to "do it right."
Northrop Grumman Corp, maker of the B-2 bomber, is competing against team made up of Boeing Co and Lockheed Martin Corp for a contract that could be worth $50 billion to $80 billion to the winning bidder.
"The main thing is to do it right," James told Reuters in an interview. "We don't want to drag our feet but we don't want to rush because if you rush, you might not get it right."
The two teams are competing to build 80 to 100 new bombers for the Air Force at cost of no more than $550 million per aircraft, one of few new large-scale aircraft programs to kick off in recent years.
Air Force officials initially expected to award the contract this spring, but the target date has slipped several times.
In May, Air Force acquisition chief William LaPlante told reporters he expected a decision in one to two months, but that he was focused on ensuring the decision was carefully justified, rather than meeting a specific deadline. [ID: nL1N0Y615F]
James said she would absolutely favor delaying a contract award by a few extra weeks to ensure the process was as thorough as possible.
She said the Air Force hoped to avoid a formal protest against the contract award, but recognized that the losing bidder had the right to challenge it.
"If we have all our information lined up correctly, hopefully that would decrease the possibility, but if there's a protest, there's a protest. That's the companies' right to do so."
(Reporting by Andrea Shalal; Editing by David Gregorio)