The Air Force on Friday unveiled its newest stealth bomber aircraft, the B-21 Raider, in Palmdale, California. Built by Northrop Grumman, the bomber was named in honor of the “courageous spirit” of airmen who carried out the surprise World War II Doolittle Raid.
The sixth-generation aircraft is expected to help the Air Force “penetrate the toughest defenses for precision strikes anywhere in the world,” Northrop Grumman’s press release said. Six bombers are currently in “various stages of final assembly” in California, according to the release.
The event on Friday was even more significant given that it marked the first time in more than 30 years a new US bomber has been publicly unveiled since the B-2 Spirit was presented in 1988. While the US originally planned to have a fleet of 132 B-2s, just 21 were ultimately purchased.
The release of the new bomber comes amid heightened tensions between the US and both China and Russia. Just days ago, the Pentagon released its annual report on China, which said the country has doubled its number of nuclear warheads in a fraction of the time the US expected it to.
By 2035, the report said, China could have roughly 1,500 nuclear warheads – an “accelerated expansion” of its stockpile, a senior defense official told CNN.
The B-21 was designed with that competition in mind. Northrop Grumman’s rundown of the new bomber’s abilities said that while adversaries “continue to invest in and develop advanced weapons,” the B-21 will allow the US to penetrate enemy air defense and hit targets “anywhere in the world.”
“America’s defense will always be rooted in deterring conflict. So, we are again making it plain to any potential foe: the risk and the cost of aggression far outweigh any conceivable gains,” Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said during the unveiling ceremony Friday. “This is deterrence the American way.”
While Friday marked the “first time the world’s first sixth-generation aircraft (was) seen by the public,” Northrop Grumman said, airmen and aircraft enthusiasts alike will have to wait until next year to actually see one in the air.
The first B-21 flight is expected to happen in 2023, Air Force spokeswoman Ann Stefanek said, though she emphasized that the timing of the first flight “will be data and event, not date, driven.”
The Air Force previously said that the new nuclear-capable stealth bomber, which has the ability to carry both nuclear and conventional weapons and which will fall under the Air Force’s Global Strike Command, will be “the backbone of the future Air Force bomber force,” designed in a way that is ripe for future modernization efforts.
The service named Ellsworth Air Force Base, South Dakota, as the home of the B-21 and home to the aircraft’s training program. Each aircraft was anticipated to cost $550 million when the price was set in 2010; after adjusting for inflation this year, Stefanek said, the cost of each aircraft, including training materials, support equipment and other components of the bomber, is $692 million. The Air Force plans to purchase at least 100 of the stealth bombers.
“Even the most sophisticated air defense systems will struggle to detect the B-21 in the sky,” Austin said at the unveiling.
The B-21 has been built with long-term sustainability and maintainability in mind, Northrop Grumman said in the release. It has also been designed to be rapidly upgraded when future threats demand it – a process that can often be slowed down by bureaucratic red tape and delayed timelines when it comes to older military aircraft and vehicles.
The bomber won’t undergo “block upgrades,” according to Northrop Grumman, which is a method of periodically upgrading parts of a system. Instead, the company said new “technology, capabilities and weapons will be seamlessly incorporated” through software upgrades.
“This will ensure the B-21 Raider can continuously meet the evolving threat head on for decades to come,” the company said.
BDST: 1354 HRS, DEC 03, 2022