It won’t be flying high for a while longer, but this week the United States Air Force released a new rendering of the still in development Northrop Grumman B-21 Raider. As with past renderings, this was still an artist’s “interpretation” of the Raider, the Air Force was quick to note.
“The rendering highlights the future stealth bomber with Edwards Air Force Base, Calif., as the backdrop,” the Air Force release also stated. “Designed to perform long-range conventional and nuclear missions and to operate in tomorrow’s high end threat environment, the B-21 will be a visible and flexible component of the nuclear triad.”
The 420th Flight Test Squadron, based at Edwards AFB will conduct the planning, testing, and analysis of the bomber; and will then report on all flight and ground testing of the B-21 Raider. According to the Air Force, the B-21 program has continued to execute the Engineering and Manufacturing Development phase and it has remained focused on scaling the manufacturing infrastructure and capacity across the industrial supply base to prepare for low rate initial production. A critical design review conducted in 2018 had concluded the aircraft has a mature and stable design.
The Air Force plans to incrementally replace the B-1 Lancer and the B-2 Spirit bombers to form a two-bomber fleet of B-21s and modified B-52s. The B-21 program is on track to deliver B-21s to the first operational base, Ellsworth AFB, South Dakota, in the mid-2020s.
The B-21 Raider was designed to perform long-range conventional and nuclear missions and to be a visible and flexible component of the nuclear triad.
“Nuclear modernization is a top priority for the Department of Defense and the Air Force, and B-21 is key to that plan,” said Randall Walden, Air Force Rapid Capabilities Office director. “The built-in feature of open systems architecture on the B-21 makes the bomber effective as the threat environment evolves. This aircraft design approach sets the nation on the right path to ensuring America’s enduring airpower capability.”
Just the Facts
In addition to the new rendering, the Air Force published a new fact sheet on the B-21 Raider, which noted the bomber’s mission will be a dual-capable penetrating strike stealth bomber capable of delivering both convention and nuclear munitions.
“The B-21 will form the backbone of the future Air Force bomber force consisting of B-21s and B-52s. Designed to operate in tomorrow’s high-end threat environment, the B-21 will play a critical role in ensuring America’s enduring airpower capability,” the Air Force noted.
The Northrop Grumman-produced aircraft will also be a component of the larger family of systems for conventional Long-Range Strike, including Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance, electronic attack, communication, and other capabilities. It will be nuclear-capable and designed to accommodate manned or unmanned operations. Additionally, it will be able to employ a broad mix of stand-off and direct-attack munitions.
The Air Force has already completed the Environmental Impact Statement process as required by the National Environmental Policy Act and other regulatory processes. In 2021, the Air Force named Ellsworth Air Force Base, South Dakota as the first B-21 main operating base and location of the Formal Training Unit; while the Air Force Test Center at Edwards Air Force Base, California will host the B-21 Combined Test Force and the Air Force Sustainment Center at Tinker Air Force Base, Oklahoma is the site for depot planning.
The B-21 Raider was named in honor of the historic Doolittle Raiders, the U.S. Army Air Force men who took part in the surprise attack against the Japanese capital of Tokyo during World War II on April 18, 1942. That action forced the Japanese to recall combat forces for home defense, and boosted morale among Americans and U.S. allies abroad. The designation B-21 recognizes the Raider as the first bomber of the 21st century.
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.