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Why Nothing May Stop the B-21 Raider Stealth Bomber

B-21 Raider Stealth Bomber
B-21 Raider Stealth Bomber earlier artist rendering. Image: U.S. Air Force.

Developed to complement and eventually replace the Rockwell B-1 Lancer, Northrop Grumman B-2 Spirit, and Boeing B-52 Stratofortress, the Northrop Grumman B-21 Raider stealth bomber won’t enter service until at least 2026-2027 at the earliest. However, it seems that progress is moving forward on the stealth aircraft.

It was last month that a second prototype is now under construction, and the platform is on track to make its first flight next year.

According to Northrop Grumman, “The B-21 Raider will be capable of penetrating the toughest defenses to deliver precision strikes anywhere in the world.”

As the company noted earlier this week, “the Rise of the Raider” began in February 2016 when Northrop Grumman initiated design and build work for the B-21. The program has progressed rapidly in the past five years, and it was in January that Randall Walden, director of the Air Force Rapid Capabilities Office, said in an interview with Air Force Magazine, that the test article is “really starting to look like a bomber.”

The defense contractor has also noted its highly skilled workforce has been able to leverage cutting-edge technologies. These include the use of highly immersive virtual environments, as well as both augmented and virtual reality, and this has been able to drive innovation in digital engineering and advanced manufacturing to build the producible, sustainable and maintainable 21st-century bomber.

“Our early and continued investment in infrastructure, design maturation, risk reduction and our workforce has been a significant driver of progress on our first two aircraft on the production line in Palmdale,” said Steve Sullivan, vice president, and general manager, strike division, Northrop Grumman. “As a result, we are well-positioned for low-rate initial production following key milestones in 2022 and beyond.”

B-21 Raider Stealth Bomber: A History

The B-21 is a heavy stealth strategic bomber that has its roots in the Long Range Strike Bomber program (LRS-B), an early to mid-2010s procurement program for a long-range, nuclear-capable strike bomber. Along with the Russian PAK DA and Chinese H-20 counterparts, the B-21 is a flying wing subsonic bomber that has put an emphasis on stealth, penetration capabilities, and prodigious payload capacity over raw speed and supermaneuverability.

The B-21 Raider’s currently confirmed weapons reportedly include the JASSM-ER stealthy cruise missile, the 30,000 pound GBU-57 Massive Ordnance Penetrator “bunker buster” bomb, and GBU-31 Joint Directed Attack Munition (JDAM) satellite-guided bomb. Additionally, the B-21’s armaments suite is being designed with a focus on payload and configuration flexibility to accommodate a wide range of roles and mission requirements, though the full extent of its battlefield capabilities has yet to be revealed.

The Air Force has worked in collaboration with Northrop Grumman in the development of the long-range penetrating strike aircraft.

“The B-21 Raider is the product of a proud partnership between Northrop Grumman and the U.S. Air Force,” Sullivan added. “We are committed to delivering the world’s most capable, technologically advanced bomber that will equip our warfighters with every strategic advantage against our adversaries.”

Peter Suciu is a Michigan-based writer who has contributed to more than four dozen magazines, newspapers, and websites. He regularly writes about military small arms, and is the author of several books on military headgear including A Gallery of Military Headdress, which is available on Amazon.com.

Written By

Peter Suciu is a Michigan-based writer who has contributed to more than four dozen magazines, newspapers and websites. He is the author of several books on military headgear including A Gallery of Military Headdress, which is available on Amazon.com.

12 Comments

12 Comments

  1. James Goodall

    February 25, 2021 at 1:28 pm

    A B-21 Raider prototype was photographed over the desert SW last fall in company with a B-21 Spirit. As it was flying at the same altitude as the accompanying B-2A, it was fairly easy to estimate it’s wing span and a few other items.

    With the B-2A and the B-21 in the same frame, I was able to determine the wing span to be about 125 to 130 feet. Much like the original B-2 concept, it has only three (3) trailing edge points, versus five (5) on the B-2.

    It’s hard to tell, but the exhaust coming out of the B-21 Raider appears to have four (4) exhaust plumes coming out of the exhaust ejectors. Being Northrop Grumman has stated that it will use as much current technology on the B-21 to reduce costs and shorten development time, its assumed that the power plant is probably the same as the B-2, the General Electric F118-GE-100.

    The weapons load would be half of the current B-2A, as the B-21 has only one bomb bay versus the B-2s two.. And it’s also possible that this particular B-21 was at Whiteman AFB but no one reported it. The mold lines of the B-21 look to be very similar to that of the B-2A, and if you weren’t looking for a different aircraft. And the ramp at Whiteman is massive. One of the reasons I believe that the B-21 prototype was at Whiteman, it has the very same artwork on its main landing gear doors as the B-2A.

    More as I learn more.

    MSgt James C. Goodall, USAF (ret)

  2. John Stuart

    February 25, 2021 at 1:41 pm

    They are keeping the B-52 until 2044. Why? Stealth has a cost, in purchase price, operations cost and payload. We can’t afford for the B-21 to fly conventional missions. A new conventional B-1 like, reduced signature bomber is required i the 2030’s to compliment the B-21.

  3. John D Isaacs

    February 25, 2021 at 2:46 pm

    What is the total program cost for the B-21: R&D, procurement, O&M? That would be useful information.

  4. IainC

    February 25, 2021 at 3:51 pm

    Democrats will cancel this program after only a few dozen aircraft, if that many, are built.

  5. Dan Mullock

    February 25, 2021 at 4:22 pm

    How many strategic missions have US heavy bombers flown in the past 30 years? Answer, none. They are retiring the B-1’s because they burned them up on bomb truck duty over Afghanistan and Iraq/Syria. Any mission that the B-21 might do can be done by long range missiles or drones.

    • John

      February 25, 2021 at 8:24 pm

      @Dan Mullock:

      “How many strategic missions have US heavy bombers flown in the past 30 years?”

      That’s the point: Si vis pacem, para bellum.

      “Any mission that the B-21 might do can be done by long range missiles or drones.”

      Tactical mission in a low-intensity conflict over uncontested airspace? Sure. Great power strategic mission (ie, deterrence)? No.

      “They are retiring the B-1’s because they burned them up on bomb truck duty over Afghanistan and Iraq/Syria.”

      Which is why we need a replacement for both the B-1 and the B-52 that shares the characteristics of both. There is a tremendous tactical value in high-speed, high volume, conventional ground attack; grunts love the B-1 because it can get on station in a fraction of the time it might take an A-10, and it carries an order of magnitude more ordinance than F/As.

      It’s a much more complicated world with more frequent and diverse missions. Going forward, we will be fighting LICs while also maintaining high levels of deterrence; those missions have different requirements, and we need a military that is equipped to prosecute both simultaneously. Applied to air power, that means fast, conventional ground attack (4th gen) for the former, long range stealth (5-6th gen and beyond) for the latter, and UAVs for both. Or we can just give up, turn our guns into plowshares, and let China have all the marbles. Since we’re a country in clear decline, it’s likely we’ll do just that.

  6. FWGuy

    February 25, 2021 at 5:55 pm

    I have no idea why USAF is wasting valuable resources on the B-52?? Its way over-due for the Boneyard. It never get within 2500 miles of Russia or China before its shot out of the sky…

    • John

      February 25, 2021 at 8:39 pm

      “It never get within 2500 miles of Russia or China before its shot out of the sky…”

      It likely won’t have to – it will probably be used to truck around future, ultra-long-range cruise missiles and drones. But I agree – we should be developing a B-1 replacement that fills the role of both airframes. Such a plane wouldn’t need to be stealthy, just fast and capacious, like the B-1. It would have a symbiotic relationship to the B-21, just as gen 4 fighters do with the JSF; the B-21 kicks in the door, and the B-1 replacement quickly brings lots more ordinance to the party.

      Our near-peers are getting more near by the day in three of the five domains (sea/under sea, ground, cyber). We still have significant overmatch in sky and space. If we want to keep China in check, we need to assiduously guard and maintain those advantages.

  7. Al Horvath

    February 25, 2021 at 8:42 pm

    We have forgotten the fact that in war quantity is quality. During the early days of the Cold War the US had hundreds of nuclear capable bombers. Our adversaries knew that a bomber fleet of this size was “unstoppable” in case of war. Today we are down to 20 B-2’s, 62 B-1’s and 76 B-52’s (including 18 in reserve storage). According to the US Air Force the service “needs” about 164-200 B-21’s to face first line adversaries such as Russia and China. Most indications are that the Air Force is proposing to buy only about 100 B-21’s. Past history tells us that due to cost the actual number will be much less, especially under Democrat administrations. Because of cost the plane will not be used in non-nuclear missions. That is one reason why the B-52’s (now over 50 years old) are being kept in service. The reality is that in the near future 2030-2050 the US will not have an adequate number of bombers to deter major aggressors.

  8. TermLimits

    February 26, 2021 at 2:07 am

    I don’t doubt the Chinese have stolen the plans and are working on their version right now. Take a look at their F-35 copy that’s already flying.
    The US leaks like a sieve – so sad

    • John

      February 26, 2021 at 1:28 pm

      “The US leaks like a sieve – so sad”

      That’s what happens when you actually invite your advisories to come study at your most prestigious universities. It’s absolutely ridiculous that we allow any Chinese national to study in the States. We’ve been doing that for decades, and now they are thuroughly embedded in both our STEM academic and industrial base. They can hardly believe we’re that stupid, but we are, and the FBI is totally incapable of pursuing the sheer volume of Chicom spies and sympathizers that have penetrated our society.

  9. probably not leroy

    February 26, 2021 at 3:24 am

    Except its broken Engines? That’s right it shares the same engines as the F-35 that are currently all screwed up.

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